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A. B. University of Illinois, 1918 


Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the 

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<l IV 1.91^. 




(X^cfiL "Sccl2\JL 


In Charge of Thesis 

Head of Department 

Recommendation concurred in* 



Final Examination* 

*Required for doctor's degree but not for master's 

I 443906 



The Conflict of Opinion Concerning Dickens 

and Its Relation to the Present Inquiry -- 1 

II. - Dickens 1 Purpose as a Novelist 21 

III. - Dickens 1 Philosophy as a Novelist--- 28 

IV. - The Character of Dickens 1 Appeal and 

General Method---- --——-----«— — 44 

V. - The Method and Value of Dickens 1 Use 

of Humor--- 57 

VI. - The Method and Value of Dickens 1 Use of Satire-69 

VII. - Conclusion 86 


Chapter I 


From Dickens 1 own day, when his exuberant genius was pour- 
ing itself forth as quickening waters upon the arid surface of 
Victorian literature, to these days of ours, when he is still 
read, loved, and laughed over, there have been waged over the 
living body of his works the controversies of the critics, who, 
being but mortal themselves, cannot agree as to whether immortal 
ity should be its due. It is natural that there should have 
been, and should still be. a great divergence of opinion about 
an author of such amazing productivity and virility as Dickens, 
Enthusiastic Dickensians hailed him as the greatest reformer of 
his age, and more coldly disposed critics have accorded him the 
scant praise of being a mere humorist and nothing more. Two 
dominant features of the writer have been stressed again and a- 
gain by the critics - with variations, of course - but contin- 
ually returning to the question of what the character and influ- 
ence of the man were, and how he gained his effects. Much, both 
favorable and unfavorable, has been written of the quality of 
Dickens* humor, less about his satire, and a large amount of 
critical opinion attempts to establish his place as an educator 
and reformer, A few critics, notably George Gissing and G.K. 
Chesterton, have related Dickens' humor and satire with his work 


as a reformer. By his friends he has been praised as a strong, 
constructive optimist; from others he has won disapproval as a 
confimed and dangerous sentimentalist. Before proceeding to 
the particular subject of this thesis, it might be well to 
glance over some relevant gleanings of what critics of yester- 
day and to-day have said about Dickens, - and as it were, bound 
the periphery of the circle before we explore the center . 

Let us turn first to an observation of the less- favorable 
critics. I believe that, almost without exception, they all 
recognize at least one outstanding feature of Dickens :his humor. 
They perceive it, indeed, but often they see nothing else. 
Brander Matthews and John Burroughs, both Americans of note, ex- 
press the extreme of criticism in this direction. Professor 
Matthews is very pointed: "Dickens was a humorist and nothing 
else." 1 John Burroughs follows in the same strain: "A man of 
wonderful talents, but of no deep seriousness; a matchless 
mimic through and through, and nothing else." There seems to 
be no connection with even distant ethical values here. Other 
critics of similar mind inevitably enjoy the humor of Dickens 
but regret that there is little in it save an exuberance of an- 
imal spirits and a boyish superabundance of vitality. Mr. 

* Davey, Samuel, "Darwin, Carlyle, and Dickens, and Other Es- 
says." Cited in ibid., p# 587. Dawson, W.G., "Quest and Vision, 
(1886), Cited in Moulton's Library, vol. 6, p. 589. 
2 Burroughs, John, "On the Rereading of Books", Century Maga- 
zine, vol. 55 (1897), p. 149. Cited in Moulton's Library, vol. 
6, p. 592. 

1 Matthews, Brander, "Aspects of Fiction" (1894-1902), p. 47. 
Cited in Moulton's Library of Literary Criticism, vol. 6, p. 592. 


Herman Merivale, comparing Dickens and Thackeray, says, "Thack- 
eray was the mighty master of that kind of humor whose bright- 
est laughter has a touch of tears - Dickens was the master of 
its other side, which turns straight to the fun-god, and suf- 
fereth not its god to be eclipsed." 1 

It is Dickens' display of his keen sense of humor which 
brings him face to face with one of the most frequently reit- 
erated charges against him. It is that very sense of the rid- 
iculous which leads him to emphasize humorous peculiarities , 
and lays him open to the accusation of creating not characters, 
but caricatures. They are said to be not men and women but 
mere lively representations of some dominant eccentricity, con- 
ceived in the manner of Jonson's 'humours', rather than as in- 
dividual personalities. If it be a fact that the characters 
of his books do not impress us with their realism, in one way 
or another, they could, of course, hardly have a lasting effect 
upon the reader, ethical or otherwise. One critic calls 
Bumble, Pecksniff, Mrs. Gamp, and other figures which perhaps 
border on caricature, 'standards of reference', which stand 
for character, though not for persons. Mr. George Brimley ad- 
mits that "many of his portraits excite pity, and suggest the 

3 Lewin, Walter, "The Abuse of Fiction", The Forum, vol. 7 
(1889), p. 668. Cited in ibid., p. 590. 

2 Brimley, George, "Bleak House", Essays, ed. Clark (1853 - 
1858), p. 292. Cited in ibid., p. 582. Walker, Hugh. "The Age 
of Tennyson" (1897), p. 87. Cited in ibid., p. 593. 
1 Merivale, Herman, "About Two Great Novelists", Temple Bar, 
vol. 83 (1888), p. 202. Cited in Moulton's Library, vol. 6, p. 590. 


existence of crying social sins, but of almost all we are ob- 
liged to say that they border on, and frequently reach caricat- 
ure, of which the essence is to catch a striking likeness by ex- 
clusively selecting and exaggerating a peculiarity that marks 
the man but does not represent him," * None other a critic than 
Ruskin, however, warns against losing the essential truth of 
Dickens because the reader feels that caricature has destroyed 
verity and realism. He holds that there is truth at the center, 
which should not be overlooked, "The caricature, though often 
gross, is never mistaken. Allow for manners, and the things he 
tells are true. Let us not lose the use of Dickens 1 wit and in- 


sight because he choses to speak in a circle of stage fire." 


Pursuing further this critic/ of Dickens' realism or truth 
to life, one observes that it may be approached from about three 
more different viewpoints. One of these is a favorite reproach 
brought forward by the opposition to the effect that Dickens 
never created a real gentleman; that his satiric portraits of 
the nobility were reflected wholly from his own imagination and 
a temperamental, vague grudge against the pride and power of the 
upper classes. He is unfavorably compared with Thackeray, and 
probably rightly so, if one looks for a true, consistently life- 
like picture of titled 1 ladies and gentlemen f . Even Swinburne, 
one of the most devoted of Dickens 1 admirers, acknowledges that 
his idol is at his weakest in his social satire, especially in 

1 Brimley, George, "Bleak House", Essays, ed. Clark (1853-1858), 
p.292. Cited in Moulton's Library, voih. 6, p. 582. 

2 Ruskin, John, "The Roots of Honor", Unto This Last (1860), 
Edition, George Allen (1906), note, p. 14. 


his portrayal of the formalities and externals of the life of 
the nobility, but asserts that despite this fault , Dickens 1 
satire of social pretensions and sham gentility is typical and 
true of the time. 1 Adolphus W. Ward, likewise a friendly crit- 
ic, who is nevertheless not blind to the short-comings of Dick- 
ens, takes a unique position, in some points analogous to Swin- 
burne's. "I demur to the common assertion that Dickens could 
not draw a real gentleman. All that can be said is that it 
very rarely suited his purpose to do so, supposing the term to 

include manners as well as feelings and actions Moreover, 

a closer examination of Lord Verisopht and Cousin Peenix will 
show that, gull as the one, and ninny as the other is, neither 
has anything that can be called ungentlemanly about him. On the 
contrary, the characters on the whole rather plead in favor of 
the advantage than the uselessness of blue blood. As for Dick- 
ens 1 other noblemen, they are nearly all mere passing embodi- 


ments of satirical fancies, which pretend to be nothing more." 
Of course there is more or less quibbling about the term 'gentle- 
man* - some of the eager Dickensians claiming that Dickens 
has given us many real gentlemen, the gentlemen of native worth, 
rather than those who bear the name vicariously by reason of 
their station in life. This appears to me to be somewhat be- 
side the point, because, although it is true that Captain Cut- 

3 Especially Walters, J. Cuming, "Phases of Dickens" (1911), 
p. 122. 

2 Ward, AdolDhus W., "Charles Dickens", English Men of Letters, 
y. 9 (1901), p. 220. 

1 Swinburne, Algernon Charles, "Charles Dickens" (1902), pp.41, 
42. • 


tle, Mr. Grewgious, and many others of Nature's noblemen 1 are 
real gentlemen, it is mainly in the restricted meaning of the 
word that Dickens is attacked. 

Another criticism frequently advanced is that Dickens is 
the opposite of all realism. He is called the 'cheeriest of 
humorists', but an idealist and a dreamer, hopelessly provin- 
cial, touching everything into magic by his imagination. "He 
found in the great city, not Cockneydom, but Fairyland, and he 
was never tired of wondering at its piteous oddity and delight- 
ful quiddity."^- Dickens was part idealist and part dreamer, it 
is true, but it is a mistake to disparage the other side of his 
nature: of intense penetration and action. According to Chest- 
erton, he saw the common-place so clearly that he could idealize 


it and yet make it seem more real than reality itself. Mr. 
Merivale, who entertains an opinion similar to the first , that 
Dickens' creations "are imaginations as much as Puck or Ariel", 
makes the point that "Dickens' characters are either black or 
white, - Thackeray's are the gray mixture", apparently having 
forgotten that Dickens crested such characters as Pip or Rosa 
Bud or any number of others. 

In his criticism, Merivale may have been suggesting a 
fault which George Eliot apprehended in the great novelist. It 
is not to be wondered at, that the author of the greatest Eng- 

3 Merivale, Herman, "About Two Great Novelists", Temple Bar, 
vol. 83 (1888), p. 202. Cited in Moulton's Library, p. 590. 
2 Chesterton, G.K., "Charles Dickens" (1906), pp. 47, 48. 
1 Buchanan, Robert, "The Coming Terror" (1891), p. 234. Cited 
in Moulton's Library, vol. 6. p. 591. 


lish psychological novels should have thought that Dickens was 
portraying only the surface of life. She felt that in so do- 
ing, he was losing an opportunity for real social service. She 
says: "If he could give us their psychological character, their 
conceptions of life, and their emotions, with the same truth 
as their idiom and manners, his books would be the greatest 
contribution Art has ever made to the awakening of social sym- 
pathies." * But 'his psychology was false', which springs from 
his philosophy of life. George Eliot censures the latter as 
being sentimental, and falsely and foolishly optimistic ( one 
of the most widely held criticisms of Dickens), and only re- 
deemed by "the precious salt of his humor." She is opposed to 
"the miserable fallacy that high morality and refined sentiment 
can grow out of harsh social relations, ignorance and want, or 
that the working classes are in a condition to enter at once 
into a millen^al state of altruism, wherein everyone is caring 
for everyone else, and no one is caring for himself." * This 
is very sound criticism, but I think deals too harshly with a 
tendency, and not an obsession of Dickens. Mr. Paul Elmer More 
also comments upon the externality of Dickens' characters 
that they are described from without and not from within, and 
makes the statement that the emotions the reader feels in read- 
ing of the characters, are not the feelings which the charact- 

2 Eliot, George, "The Natural History of German Life", West- 
minster Review (1856). Reprinted in George Eliot's Essays. Dana 
Estes and Co., (1883), p. 162. 

1 Eliot, George, "The Natural History of German Life", West- 
minster Review (1856). Reprinted in George Eliot's Essays, Dans 
Estes and Co., (1883), p. 161. 


ers themselves would experience, but those which Dickens, "the 
great, egotistic, dramatic observer" felt as he created them. 

In brief, these criticisms find fault with Dickens 1 real- 
ism on the three-fold accusation that his social satire was 
weak and untrue, so that he never portrayed a real gentleman; 
that his creations are all the offspring of his imagination, 
and are purely ideal; and lastly that his characters are con- 
ceived from the outside only, and are not pictured with any 
psychological truth or accuracy. 

Among the more or less adverse criticisms of Dickens T 
work, there is none more surprising, when compared with the 
opinion of favorable critics, than that of Charles D. Yonge. 
He concedes that Dickens wrote 'with invariable purity 1 , and 
never attempted the 'most distant suggestion of impropriety' - 
(which, when one reads what follows, is indeed "damming with 
faint praise"): "For", continues Mr, Yonge, "it is probably 
rather overstraining his merits when he is further represented 
as having deliberately designed to bring about a reform of ab- 
uses by his writings,. • He never once attempted to delineate 
either man or woman the contemplation of whose character can 
refine or elevate the feelings of the reader; he does indeed 
on more than one occasion endeavor to be pathetic, but his 
talents were not formed to draw tears. His sense of fun is 
visible through his mask of dolefulness, and the effect he 
produces on the reader is certainly not that which he appears 


to desire, "* This quite takes one's breath away, especially 
when it is placed beside something like this: "Was Dickens con- 
sciously and intentionally an educator ? The prefaces to his 
novels, the preface to his Household Words; the educational 
articles he wrote; the prominence given in his books to child 
training in homes, institutions and schools; the statements of 
the highest educational philosophy found in his writings; and 
especially the clearness of his insight, and the profoundness 
of his educational thought, as shown by his condemnation of the 
wrong and his appreciation of the right in teaching and train- 
ing the child, prove beyond question that he was not only broad 
and true in his sympathy with childhood, but that he was a 
progressive student of the fundamental principles of education^ 
And Mr. Yonge's attitude is again flatly contradicted by W. 
Walter Crotch, in his book "Charles Dickens, Social Reformer." 
He says, "Furthermore, it seems to me important to emphasize 
the fact that Charles Dickens was in a very special sense a 
social reformer. It was not simply that he loathed shams. With 
him it was not merely a case of creating characters at which 
the whole world laughed, humbugs who excited its wrath and im- 
postors who provoked its derision. He was at heart and by con- 


viction a reformer." If the critic has found no man or woman 
whose character he can contemplate for the refining or elevat- 

Crotch, W. Walter, "Charles Dickens, Social Reformer" (1913), 
Intro., p. vii. 

2 Hughes, James L., "Dickens as an Educator" ( 1903), p. 1. 
1 Yonge, Charles D., "Three Centuries of English Literature" 
(1873), pp. 625-626. Cited in Moulton's Library, vol. 6, p. 586, 


ing of his feelings, he must have read Dickens for naught. 
Perhaps Mrs. Gamp would not refine him nor Pecksniff elevate 
him, but if he is ashamed to 'contemplate* Joe Gargery, or 
Biddy, or Ruth Pinch, if his heart is never warmed by John 
Jarndyce, even if the 'wind is in the west 1 sometimes, if he 
has the attitude of a MacStinger toward Captain Cuttle,- then 
assuredly he will see no purpose in Dickens, nor the accomp- 
lishment of any purpose, Mr. J. Cuming Walters, whose view- 
point is totally different from that of Mr, Yonge, describes 
Dickens 1 favorite type of "little" women as 'serviceable wo- 
men' - "the embodiments of a beautiful idea, and in their lovely 
guise, they themselves become beautiful,..,. They have no super- 
fluous embellishments, but they are eminently likeable, they 
are real and near, and they are intrinsically great "little " 
women who consecrate human relationships," * And of the mem- 
orable characters among his men - some of 'nature's nOblemen', 
he says, "They form part of a vision of noble manhood, of un- 
tainted nature, good creatures as God fashioned them 

Gentlemen, modest and exalted. Heroes, not of high adventure, 
but of sterling worth, innate goodness, heroes not handsome, 
save in deeds that make them so." 

From a consideration of the unfavorable criticisms 
which have gone before, one may see that an opinion founded 
upon them would give little or no credit to Dickens' humor or 

J Ibid., p. 121-122. 

1 Walters, J. Cuming, "Phases of Dickens" (1911), pp. 159,160. 


satire as a source of ethical value or influence, - Dickens is 
said to be only a clever mimic with no purpose beyond his hum- 
or; his characters have descended into caricatures, picturing 
a peculiarity but not a personality; his satire is unreal and 
unjust; he is an idealist and a dreamer, and shows only one side 
of life, the good or the bad, he makes no attempt at psycholog- 
ical analysis of character, and shows only external traits; his 
philosophy of life is false and sentimental; and he never wrote 
with deliberate purpose, nor achieved any result to elevate or 
refine the reader. 

If unfavorable critics hare laid more emphasis upon what 
they conceive to be the undesirable traits of Dickens and have 
had less to say about his influence , his champions speak of his 
traits only to identify them with his dynamic power, Dickens' 
influence has been very wide, and the partial explanation lies 
in the universality of his appeal. "In everybody," says Chest- 
erton, "there is a certain thing that loves babies, that fears 
death, that likes sunlight: that thing enjoys Dickens." 1 Dick- 
ens has not made himself one with the joys and sorrows of only 
a few Londoners, but with the sympathies of humanity. His 
stage is as broad as London, yet as vast as the world. He did 
not 'write down' to his public, but wrote with them and for 
them. He came close to the heart of the common people - "No 
English author has come so close to the hearts of the people as 
Charles Dickens... Dickens is always near and intimate. He is 

1 Chesterton, G.K., "Charles Dickens" (1906), p. 109. 


the friend speaking direct, needing no intermediary, requir- 
ing no interpreter] we understand his words and are moved by 
his message; he has the power of appeal, and is a man, always 
a man in contact with his brother-man." * It was by winning 
the friendship of the common people that he was able to mould 
them to his purpose. W. Walter Crotch, an enthusiastic critic 
who stresses the dynamic side of Dickens, says: "The fact is, 
that Dickens accomplished what to many is profoundly difficult. 
He saw the life of his time as a whole, and he perceived that 
the true prophet and teacher could become an influence of ef- 
fective progress only so long as he could arrest and harness the 
interest and fealty of the common people. The great men may 

conceive great thoughts and ideas, but their value and effect- 


iveness lie with the man who realizes them." The common 
mind could more readily grasp 'a conventional morality and a 
simple psychology', and when these were joined to Dickens' un- 
usually buoyant and happy spirits, there were few people who 
could fail to perceive his meaning. "The fun and the joy, the 
kindliness, the sympathy, that poured from his books, blend in 
a perennial stream of the pleasantest recreation for countless 
men and women." * 

That note of 'sweetness and light' is struck again and 
again wherever lovers of Dickens express their opinions of him. 

3 Helm, W.H., ed. Introduction to "Charles Dickens" (1912), 
p. xxxlx. 

* Crotch, W.Walter, "The Soul of Dickens" (1916), p. 219. 
1 Walters, J. Cuming, "Phases of Dickens" (1911), p. 4. 


Charles Eliot Norton pays a pleasant tribute to this quality 
of the author: "To give so much pleasure, to add so much to 
the happiness of the world, by his writings, as Mr. Dickens has 
succeeded in doing, is a felicity that has never been attained 
in such full measure by any other author. • • • Indeed, it is not 
in his truly literary character that he has done most for us, 
it is as a man of the largest humanity, who has simply used lit- 
erature as a means by which to bring himself into relation with 
his fellow -men, and to inspire them with something of his own 
sweetness, kindness, charity and good-will." 1 Dickens' genial- 
ity and humor joyfully overflows into his books, and by its 

genuine magic irresistibly calls the reader to share in its 


golden warmth. Swinburne's praise is/a rhapsodic strain: "We ac- 
knowledge with infinite thanksgiving of inexhaustible laughter 
and of rapturous admiration, the very greatest comic poet or 
creator that ever lived to make the life of other men more bright 
and more glad and more perfect, than ever - without his benefi- 
cent influence, it possibly or imaginably could have been." * 

According to many critics some of Dickens' best work, which 
has so much of humor and yet so much of kindness in it, is that 
in which he draws characters - whose exteriors are not partic- 
ularly attractive, or even may be obviously peculiar - with such 
penetration and affection, that the reader could not be a snob 

2 Swinburne, Algernon Charles, "Charles Dickens" (1902), pp.28, 

1 Norton, Charles Eliot, "Charles Dickens", North American Re- 
view, vol. 106 (1886), p. 671. Cited in Moulton's Library, vol. 6, 
p. 584. 


if he tried, and finds himself loving them with their author. 
Choosing some character of the most unpromising outward appear- 
ance., he makes us love them all, for the truth, the honesty, 
the sweet, guileless, forgiving spirit that lives within the 
ungainly frame. If Dickens had done no more than create the 
Tom Pinch of "Chuzzlewit", or the blacksmith Joe of "Great Ex- 
pectations", he deserves lasting gratitude and fame." ^ Mr. G. 
K. Chesterton, whose criticisms of Dickens are always vital and 
memorable, points out that the real work of Dickens was the re- 
vealing of a certain grotesque greatness inside an obscure or 
even unattractive type - which illuminates, as he says, the par- 
adox of all spiritual things, that the inside is always larger 


than the outside. 

George Gissing makes the observation that the reason 
Dickens could gain the influence he did was that he first got the 
public heart and conscience in accord with him by his humor and 
wide sympathy with their ideas and ideals, and then when they 
loved, laughed and wept with him, he could move them to his will. 
For Dickens was not only an apostle of sweetness and light, he 
was a veritable light-bringer. Mr. Yonge to the contrary, there 
is both internal and external evidence to show that Dickens 
practically always wrote with a purpose, and that was the better- 
ment of social conditions. Mr. W. Walter Crotch, who has writ- 
ten two books of the highest eulogy to prove that Dickens was 

3 Crotch, W. Walter, "Charles Dickens, Social Reformer" (1913); 
gThe Soul of Dickens" (1916) . 

Chesterton, G.K., "Charles Dickens" (1906), p. 260. 
1 Collier, W.F., "History of English Literature" (1861), p. 484. 
Cited in Moulton ! s L.brary, vol. 6, pp. 583-584. 


the greatest vital force of his generation, says that Dickens' 
best work was always written with a purpose, and that his high- 
est humor and most deliberate purpose often ^o together, ^ 
Gissing and other critics maintain that Dickens was never so 
happy as when writing a story with an obvious moral, and that it 
is a duty from which he never departs. He was the first to use 
fiction to tell the sad history of the poor and wretched who 

live in the dark byways of a great city, and to show that their 


condition proves the neglect of a social duty. Not only did 
Dickens expose abuses, and write with a purpose to ameliorate 
evil conditions, but he was in a very large degree successful. 
His most enthusiastic admirers conceive him to be a sort of div- 
inity who said, "Let there be light," and there was light. Mr. 
Crotch calls him "the most potent liberating force that the 19th. 
century has produced," and Mr. James L. H^hes in his book 

"Dickens as an Educator", says that "Dickens was England's 

ft 4 

greatest educational reformer. Frederick W. Farrar gives him 
this praise: "It is immensely to the credit of the heart of the 
novelist, and will be a permanent addition to his fame, not only 
that he devoted fiction to the high end of exposing manifold 
social abuses, but even that, by the force of his genius, he con- 

4 Hughes, James L., "Dickens as an Educator" (1903), p. 1. 
| Crotch, W.Walter, "The Soul of Dickens" (1916), p. 71. 
d Irving, Walter, "Charles Dickens" (1874). Cited in M ulton's 
Library, vol. 6, p. 586. 

1 Crotch, W.Walter, "The Soul of Dickens" (1916), p. 75, 76. 


tributed a material element to their correction," 1 And here 
also an unreserved championship of his good influence and of 
his philosophy: "No single man was ever so widely and perma- 
nently useful. No single man ever sowed gentleness and mercy 
with so broad a sweep, . • The new man says of Dickens that his 
sentiment rings false. This is a mistake. It rings old-fash- 
ioned. No false note ever moved a world, and the world contin- 


ued to love his very name," 

Friendly criticism seems to be unanimous in its agreement 
that Dickens was a great moral influence, and it is equally a- 
greed that through the help of humor and satire he achieved his 
results. His satire is considered at its best as keen and un- 
mistakable, particularly when he attacks some great institution- 
al evil, but his 1 social 1 satire is criticized by nearly every- 
one on the grounds of being externally untrue to the class it 
satirizes. His satire is usually lightened and made more pal- 
atable by a touch of humor. He was often fierce in his attacks, 
says Chesterton, but this humor made the fierceness readable and 
so gained an audience and consequent results. 3 His great sat- 
irical attacks upon schools, workhouses, jails^and Red Tape in 
government and courts, have been recognized as contributing 
largely to the disappearance of the evils which they combatted. 
He was the humorist who was also a censor, combining fun with 

3 Chesterton, G.K., "Charles Dickens" (1906). p, 134, 

2 Murray, D.W,, "My Contemporaries in Fiction* (1897), pp. 10,13. 

Cited in ibid., p. 593. 

1 Farrar, Frederick W., "Men I Have Known" (1897), p, 265, Cited 
in Moulton ! s Library, vol, 6, p, 593, 


indignation, mixing his diatribe with ridicule." 1 " His pure hum- 
or was not indulged in only for its own sake. Critics, knowing 
the temper of the man, have appreciated how frequently he uses 
his humor in his most earnest purposes, Albert S. G. Canning 
in his "Philosophy of Charles Dickens" recognizes the novelist's 
method of drawing attention to public wrongs by mingling ter- 
rible descriptions of misery and crime with very amusing sketches 
of life, 2 Through humor Dickens comes to seriousness, Gissing 
thus describes the psychological reaction of the reader: "After 
the merriment comes the thought, 'but what a shame! 1 ", and 
adds that true humor always suggests a thought, or throws light 
upon human nature, * Mr. G, K, Chesterton also maintains that 
Dickens can only get at solemn emotion through the grotesque or 
humorous. "Dickens had to make a character humorous before he 
could make it human. It was the only way he knew, and he ought 
always to have adhered to it. Of the things he tried to treat 
unsmilingly or grandly, we can all make game to our hearts' 
content, but when once he has laughed at a thing, it is sacred 
forever." 4 

It is clear that two things especially stand out in these 
criticisms of Dickens. (1) He is believed to have been a potent 
influence for social happiness and betterment, and (2) he pur- 
posefully used his gifts of humor and satire to emphasize the 

4 Chesterton, G.K., "Charles Dickens" (1906), p. 192. 
3 Gissing, George , "Charles Dickens" (1912), pp. 220-221. 
2 Canning, Albert S.G., "The Philosophy of Charles Dickens" (1880), 
p. 335. Cited in Moulton's Library, vol. 6, p. 587. 
J- Walters, J. Cuming, "Phases of Dickens" ( 1911), Intro. , p.xvi. 


evils which to his mind should be reformed. 

It is now in place to consider just how far the preced- 
ing discussions of criticism contribute to the subject of the 
following chapters ♦ Needless to say, the unfavorable opinions 
of Dickens 1 work, if assented to, by their very nature discour- 
age at the outset any attempt to discover ethical values. If an 
author is classified as only a humorist, and not a realistic one 
at that, and the idea of his having any sane or serious attitude 
toward life is repudiated, one might come to the conclusion either 
that these critics believed Dickens had no ethical value, or that 
they did not even give such an apparently remote possibility a 
thought. It is by investigating to prove these views in the 
main unsound, by refuting them with reference to Dickens' own 
work, by challenging them with other criticisms which nore near- 
ly approach the subject, that one can mount upon a firm basis 
to found new opinions. Many things have been written by many 
people, attempting to prove that Dickens had the earnest desire 
and purpose to make the world better, and that, moreover, he was 
a successful reformer. It has been shown again and again that 
Dickens won his way into peoples' hearty and then when they 
laughed with him and loved him, he turned teacher. It is clear 
that some critics have seen that it was the very natural thing 
for Dickens to do - to chAe to bring about his most cherished 
desires by the use of his finest gifts. Writers who have stress- 
ed Dickens 1 method of using his humor and satire, have come the 

nearest to an approximation of his ethical value. From their 
description of the characteristics of his art, one may often 


make the deduction that they in all likelihood believe him to 
have exerted an ethical influence, although they never resolve 
the question to this point. Walters, Crotch, Gissing, and Chest- 
erton are foremost among those who offer a basis for the determ- 
ination of the ethical value of Dickens' humor and satire. Gissing 
dwells on his method of approach, Walters and Crotch emphasize 
the dynamic character of his genius, and Chesterton does all this, 
and furthermore justifies his optimism and enthusiasm. Surely 
there is material here to furnish a beginning toward an invest- 
igation of the ethical values of Dickens' humor and satire. To 
base one's judgment of ethical value wholly and exclusively on 
the results accomplished by Dickens, or to draw one's inference 
entirely from an opinion of his philosophy of life, would appear 
to me to be an incomplete consideration of the matter. One must 

be prepared to look upon all sides of the question, and discover 


first what connotation/be attached to the word 'ethical', when 
it is to be applied as a touchstone to Dickens' humor and satire. 
If one grants, with the favorable critics, that he gained the love 
and support of the larger mass of the people to help change the 
world, that he won them with his humor and a^roused them with his 
satire, - if one asserts that in the use of these two instruments 
he had a serious purpose, the question still remains: was that 
purpose ethical, or was the philosophy of life which dictated 
that purpose, a false one ? Was he a man of benevolent and com- 
pelling personality who sincerely believed in a mistaken idea, 
and caused a multitude to follow him by the sheer force of his 


genius, or was he after all, the wise, far-seeing ethical teach- 
er, whose lessons were and still are a constructive, motive force 
in the world ? 


Chapter II 
Definition of Terms 
In a study of the ethical value of Dickens 1 humor and 
satire, our first step is to limit the field of action - to 
consider what is meant in general when one speaks of ethics or 
ethical values, and then to proceed to the particular problem 
as it relates itself to Dickens, Following the advice of Cap- 
tain Cuttle to "overhaul the book", we find in the Century Dic- 
tionary this definition of ethical: "Relating to morals or the 
principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong in the ab- 
stract or in conduct; pertaining or relating to ethics." And of 

ethical truth, - "The agreement of what is said to what is really 

» 1 
believed; veracity. The Encyclopedia Brittanica offers this 

on the subject of ethics: "Ethics, then, is usually confined to 
the particular field of human character and conduct so far as 
they depend or exhibit certain general principles commonly known 
as moral principles. Men in general characterize their own con- 
duct , and that of other men, by such general adjectives as good, 
bad, right and wrong, and it is the meaning and scope of these 
adjectives , primarily in relation to human conduct, and ulti- 
mately in their final and absolute sense, that ethics investi- 
gates.... However complicated and involved its arguments and 
processes of inference may become, the facts from which they 
start, and the conclusions to which they point, are such as the 
moral consciousness alone can understand or warrant." 

* Encyclopedia Brittanica, Eleventh Edition, vol. 9, p. 109. 


From a careful reading of these definitions, one per- 
ceives that there are three lights in which ethical values 
may be judged: in human character and conduct; in the abso- 
lute sense, relating ethics to some system of philosophy; and 

in the moral consciousness, which is probably not wholly alike 


in any two personalities, and which/be governed more or less 
by their prevailing philosophies of life. To arrive at any 
fair and adequate estimation of ethical values, we must take 
into account the three sides of the triangular definition. I 
do not mean to say that the triangle is necessarily equilateral, 
but it must of necessity have three sides. An interpretation 
of the ethical value of Dickens 1 humor and satire within these 
limits will include: a study of his purpose and method, and 
the influence they have had upon conduct; a survey of his phil- 
osophy of life to determine its ethical value; and a consider- 
ation of the ethical effect of his humor and satire upon the 
reader of his books. At the end of the first chapter three 
questions were raised as guides to the solution of the thesis 
problem: Was Dickens* purpose ethical ? Was the philosophy of 
life governing that purpose true or false ? And finally: Was 
he a wise ethical teacher ? The three-fold implication of the 
term * ethical* figures in the discussion of the above questions 
- not always following the order given in the definition, but, 
I think, each part always showing itself clearly wherever it 
appears • 

Dickens* Purpose as a Novelist 

From that which we know of Dickens, not only tlrough his 
works, but through his thoughts and actions, and from the op- 
inions of contemporaries and critics, we realize that he was a 
man of strong convictions and firm purpose. And because his 
was such a virile personality in itself, aside from that part 
of him which finds expression in his novels, we approach our 
problem through Dickens himself, and then proceed to his work,- 
moving from within outward. This brings us to a consideration 
of the first question: Was Dickens' purpose ethical ? 

Unlike Ibsen, who was irritated by the attitude of peo- 
ple who sought for a moral lesson in his plays, and who declared 
that he wished merely to picture interesting phases of life, 
Dickens had an avowed didactic purpose, which he took pains to 
impress upon his readers not only in his novels, but in special 
prefaces to his books. In order to appreciate how unmistak- 
ably Dickens asserts his principles, we have only to refer to 
the prefaces of some of his novels. The preface to "Martin 
Chuzzlewit" (1843), launches into the subject without intro- 

"My main object in this story was, to exhibit in a 
variety of aspects the commonest of all the vices; to show 
how selfishness propagates itself; and to what a grim giant 
it may grow from small beginnings," A paragraph or so furth- 
er on, after an explanation of the character of Jonas Chuzzle- 
wit, he continues: "I make this comment on the character and sol- 
icit the reader 1 s attention to it in his or her consideration 
of the tale, because nothing is more common in real life, than 

a want of profitable reflection on the causes of many vices 
and crinles that awaken the general horror. What is substan- 
tially true of families in this respect, is true of a whole 


commonwealth. As we sow, we reap. Let the reader go into 
the children's side of any prison in England, or, I grieve 
to add, of many workhouses, and judge whether those are 
monsters who disgrace our streets, people our hulks and pen- 
itentiaries, and overcrowd our penal colonies , or are creat- 
ures whom we have deliberately suffered to be bred for mis- 
ery and ruin," 1 In the last sentence Dickens in his moral 

indignation goes even farther than reproaching the evil - he 

places the blame for it upon society. 

In "Nicholas Nickleby" (1838-39), which makes its powerful 

attack upon the Yorkshire schools, he voices his contempt for 

the wretched conditions with a reformer's vehemence. He says: 

"Of the monstrous neglect of education in England, and the 
disregard of it by the State as a means of forming good or 
bad citizens, and miserable or happy men, this class of schools 
afforded a notable example...... These Yorkshire schoolmast- 
ers were the lowest and most rotten in the whole ladder. 
Traders in the avarice, indifference, or imbecility of par- 
ents, and the helplessness of children; ignoranti;i sordid, 
brutal men, to whom few considerate persons would have en- 
trusted the board and lodging of a horse or dog; they formed 
a worthy cornerstone of a structure, which, for absurdity 
and a magnificent, high-handed laissez-aller neglect, has 

rarely been exceeded in the world I was always curious 

about them - fell, long afterwards and at sundry times, into 
the way of hearing more about them - at last, having an audi- 
ence, resolved to write about them," « 

He goes on to tell how he made a special journey into Yorkshire 
in the cold winter weather to investigate conditions for him- 

In his prefatory remarks for "Oliver Twist" (1837-39), 
Dickens justifies himself vigorously in the light of his moral 
beliefs and purposes. Replying to a certain criticism of the 
story, he writes: 

-"Nicholas Nickleby", Preface. 

1 Dickens, Charles, "Martin Chuzzlewit," Preface, Harper and 
Brothers (1902), All references to Dickens' works are taken from 
the Harper edition (1902), 


"When I completed it, and put it forth in its present 
form, it was objected to on some high moral grounds in some 
high moral quarters. It was, it seemed, a coarse and shock- 
ing circumstance, that some of the characters in these pages 
are chosen from the most criminal and degraded of London's 
population • 

"I have yet to learn that a lesson of the purest good 
may not be drawn from the vilest evil T I have always be- 
lieved tETs to be a recognized and established truth, laid 
down by the greatest men the world has ever seen, constant- 
ly acted upon by the best and wisest natures, and confirmed 
by the reason and experience of every thinking mind. I saw 
no reason... why the dregs of life, so long as their speech 
does not offend the ear, should not serve the purpose of a 
moral , at least as well as its froth and cream 

"What manner of life is that which is described in these 
pages, as the everyday existence of a thief ? What charms 
has it for the young and ill-disposed, what allurements for 

the most jolter-headed of juveniles ? The cold, wet, 

shelterless midnight streets of London; the foul and frowsy 
dens, where vice is closely packed and lacks the room to 
turn; the haunts of hunger and disease, the shabby rags that 
scarcely hold together; where are the attractions of these 
things ? Have they no lesson , and do they not whisper some- 
thing beyond the liTTle - regarded warning of an abstract moral 

f recept ? • . . . For it was my attempt in my humble . . . . sphere 
o dim the false glTtter surrounding something which really 
dTd exist , by showing it in its unattractive and repulsive 
truth." 1 

Like Shakespeare's Henry V, Dickens believes: 

"There is some soul of goodness in things evil, 
Would men observingly distil it oxit, 
for he reiterates in an address: "I was anxious to find in evil 
things that soul of goodness which the Creator has put in them. 
I was anxious to show that virtue may be found in the by-ways of 
the world, and that it is not incompatible with poverty or even 
with rags." With his full appreciation of the joy that could 
be got out of life, he felt "an earnest and humble desire to in- 

Shakespeare, William, "Henry V," IV, 1,4. 
"Oliver Twist," Preface. 


crease the stock of harmless cheerfulness." 

In all these quotations of Dickens' own words, one feels 
the moral earnestness of the man, and the presence of a promi- 
nent purpose, which to his mind at least, was thoroughly ethi- 
cal. And we who cannot doubt his whole-souled love of good and 
hatred of evil, nor minimize the potent energy - enthusiastic 
but not undirected - with which he entered upon his work as a 
reformer, cannot but grant him the sincere ethical nature of his 
purpose. Vigor and sincerity characterized all his efforts. In 
"David Copperfield" (1849-50), he says: "Whatever I have tried 
to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well. What 
have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely* 
Never to put my hand to anything on which I could not throw my 
whole self, and never to affect depreciation of my work, I find 
now to have been one of my golden r&les." The requirement of 
ethical truth as - "The agreement of what is said with what is 
believed" is fully met by Dickens. He held firmly to certain 
principles and expressed them in life and in his works. He be- 
lieved in following the right because it was right, and not be- 
cause it led to fortune. Forster comments that, "It will be re- 
membered of him always that he desired to set right what was 
wrong, that he held no abuse to be unimprovable, that he left 
none of the evils exactly as he found them." * A sane view of 
Dickens the reformer is suggested by J. Cuming Walters : "I do 

1 Forster, John, "Life of Charles Dickens" (n.d.), Ed. Chapman 
and Hall, p. 644. 


not contend that Dickens was always right, I should prefer 
to say he was simply righteous. Both in regard to crime and 
poverty the feelings are dangerous guides,.. But of Dickens* 
exaltation of motive there is no question, and even when ex- 
tremes led him astray he was not retrograde, but still march-- 

n 1 

ing onward, the good unconfused." 

Dickens, as has been seen, makes clear his moral pur- 
pose in general, although we do not find him specifically stat- 
ing the particular purpose of his humor and satire. In the very 
books, however, in whose prefaces he most plainly declares his 
theme, he accomplishes the task he has set for himself , through 
the use of humor and satire. We may therefore feel encouraged 
to infer that he had an ethical purpose in his use of them. 
When we have assured ourselves that Dickens' purpose was eth- 
ical, it still remains to be decided whether his philosophy of 
life was false or constructive, and whether the methods and 
results of that purpose and that philosophy as expressed in his 
humor and satire were ethical in value. Our second point leads 
us into an inquiry of the philosophy of Dickens, which we must 
understand and judge before we may adequately discuss his meth- 
od . 

Walters, J. Cuming, "Phases of Dickens" (1911), p, 183. 


Chapter III 

One of the chief charges brought against Dickens as an 
ethical teacher has always been that he displays in his books 
a so-called sentimental attitude toward human nature. There are 
four aspects of this charge which especially merit our attention: 
Dickens is said to tend toward giving his readers a false pic- 
ture of society, in which goodness and purity of heart are the 
peculiar possession of the poor; ^ to have attempted reform on 
the basis of the false philosophy that benevolence and good cheer 
can cure all social ills; 2 to have created only 'black and 
white 1 characters, and not the normal 'grey mixture 1 of every- 
day life; ^ and to exemplify the ultra- optimistic doctrine that 
the good always receive their reward on earth, while the wicked 
come to destruction. A bird's-eye view of his work might per- 
haps give the reader an impression such as the preceding com- 
ments suggest, but if one comes only a little nearer to Dickens, 
one sees that these conceptions usually exist in the mind of the 
reader and not of the writer. 

It is characteristic of the sentimentalist to believe in 
the predominant goodness of human nature, to be wilfully blind 

4 Bernbaum, Ernest, Lectures on Dickens, English 52. 
3 Merivale, Herman, "About Two Great Novelists," Temple Bar, 
vol. 83 (1888), p. 202. Cited in Moult6n's Library, vol.6, p. 590. 
2 Eliot , George, "The Natural History of German Life," West- 
minster Review (1856). Reprinted in George Eliot's Essays, Dana 
Estes and Co. (1883), p. 161. 

1 Bernbaum, Ernest, Lectures on Dickens, English 52. 


to the evil side of life, and to trust to love as a panacea for 
all the diseases of society. The experiences of Dickens 1 early 
youth were not of a kind to give him such a rosy outlook upon 
life. With his father in a debtors' prison, his family strug- 
gling with poverty, the frail, sensitive child was forced to 
help earn a scanty subsistence by working in a blacking factory. 
It was a time of suffering for him, and the sad experiences of 
his boyhood left an indelible imprint upon his spirit. He had 
endured poverty, had seen the wrong done by the stringent laws 
against debtors; he knew the horrors of the prison system, and 
had felt the suffering caused by child labor - and his personal 
acquaintance with many of the social evils of his time made his 
later satire of them the more fervent and compelling. Dickens 
leanred that life had its evil and its tragedy, and he became 
aware that love unaided could not accomplish reform. But with 
all his consciousness of wrong and sorrow, he was blest with a 
precious gift of humor and a hopeful joy in life which gave him 
courage to see the light in every present darkness and the dawn 
at the end of every night. This latter side of the author has 
sometimes been overstressed at the expense of the former, and so 
people have made the mistake of thinking of Dickens as only one 
of a long line of sentimental optimists. 

It may no doubt be true that the childhood unhappiness of 
Dickens gave him a sympathy with the poor whieh he might not 
otherwise have felt so keenly, and it may even have caused in 
him a sort of unconscious bitterness toward the rich and power- 


ful. However this may be, we never find him cynical, nor so un- 
fair as to impute an evil to a member of a class merely because 
the latter belongs to that particular social group, but we see 
him rather exposing evils in every class, wherever he sees a con- 
dition of things which needs improvement. To Dickens, wrong was 
wrong wherever it appeared - be it among the lower, middle, or 
upper classes. To be sure, he gives us a Lord Verisopht, but on 
the opposite side there appear Bill Sykes and Fagin; and Sampson 
and Sally Brass, Mr, Pecksniff, Uriah Heep, and John Jaspar, al- 
though they are all members of the middle class to which Dickens 
himself belonged, are just as mercilessly exposed in their wrong- 
doing as is any character of the nobility. If happiness and good- 
ness reign in the poor homes of the Cratchits, or the Toodles, or 
the Peggottys, one must not forget the misery of the wretched 
families in "Bleak House ", to whom Esther ministered, the squal- 
id life of the poor in the debtors' prison of "Pickwick", or the 
pictures of low London life in "Oliver Twist", If Dickens por- 
trayed the evils of the poor with more sympathy than those of the 
rich, that appears to me to be an indication not of sentimental- 
ism, but an appreciation of the fact that poverty and misery form 
a fit soil for the propagation of temptation and crime, and that 
it is the place of the more fortunate to realize that their own 
increased advantages and opportunities should make it a duty to 
remember "noblesse oblige". Dickens' aristocracy is always one of 
merit, never merely one of position, but it does not therefore 
follow that he would deny that true nobility could be found among 
the wealthy or titled classes. Some of the rich who are good and 


benevolent, and who realize their debt to society, are among 
Dickens' best-loved characters. Who would believe that their 
creator did not rejoice to bring forth such creations as gener- 
ous and considerate John Jarndyce, the jovial Cheerybles, Pick- 
wick, "an angel in gaiters", and old Scrooge, reformed and over- 
flowing with kindness and good-will: - rich men who will surely 
enter the kingdom of Heaven without passing through the eye of 
a needle. The very fact that Dickens does portray these men 
shows that he does not condemn the rich classes because they are 
rich, but because they misuse their wealth and advantages. It is 
true that he was more at home among scenes of simple goodness and 
joy, and that he interprets these with a special affection and 
understanding. He was always sincere and earnest in other de- 
lineations, but was not so invariably successful because he un- 
derstood them less fully. His attitude, however, was not false, 
nor dictated by the sentimental philosophy that goodness resided 
in the humble heart and wickedness lurked in the abodes of the 
wealthy classes. 

Although I have tried to make clear that Dickens did not 
portray life from a one-sided point of view, the fact remains 
that he did emphasize the happiness and virtue in lowly lives. 
Before we reproach him as sentimental, in order to understand 
why he did this we should take at least a swift panoramic view 
of the conditions that existed in England in his time. It was 
said to be an age of sham genjftility, when conventionality and 
hypocrisy veiled a widely-spread shallowness of sympathy and art- 


ificiality of ideals, 1 An affected gravity and sanctimonious 

pessimism characterized a large number of the people, 2 Snobbery 

was t prevalent sin. Aristocracy in the best sense of the word 

was passing, and the power was being transferred to the middle 

class, which was predominantly practical-minded and fiercely 

egoistic. 3 it j[ g no t surprising that in an age like this the 

poor should have been misunderstood and mistreated, and that 

crime should have walked abroad. * But with all the darkness 

and evil of the times, there was, (as Chesterton particularly 

points out) an undercurrent of intense, surging vitality - an 

enthusiasm and a movement toward democratic liberality which had 


tided over from the French revolution. Dickens possessed in 
extraordinary degree this latter trait of dynamic enthusiasm and 
hopeful democracy, and because he felt the impulse so strongly, 
he felt all the more the grest need to make this optimistic hum- 
anitarianism prevalent. In any age the majority are more prone 
to see the good in congenial and attractive surroundings than in 
an obscure and wretched environment, and in Dickens 1 time when 
social pretensions were taking too large a place in peoples 1 
minds, there was particular need that the sorrows of the poor be 
brought to light, and furthermore that their good qualities be 

5 Chesterton, G.K., "Charles Dickens" (1906), pp. 5-8. 

\ Crotch, Walter, *Thfi Soul of Dickens" (1916), p. 5. 

J Gissing, George, "Charles Dickens" (1912), pp. 9, 10. 

2 Saunders, Margaret feaillie, "The Philosophy of Dickens" (1905), 

pp. 28, 29. 

1 Walter^ J.C., "Phases of Dickens" (1911), Introduction, pp. 
xviii, xix, xx. 


stressed so that the public could be awakened to the fact that 
reform was not hopeless, but of vital Importance to people in 
whom hope had not yet died. Dickens called attention to goodness 
and evil regardless of class, but if we find him particularly 
interested in the poor, we should remember that he was a reformer 
in purpose, and saw that, to correct an evil, he must bring the 
submerged truth into the glare, not only of the daylight, but of 
the limelight. His natural tendencies and his experience pecu- 
liarly fitted him for the work, but he also understood clearly 
his purpose and his couse. It was not a vague, sentimental af- 
fection for the 'under-dog 1 , not a blindly directed, constitution- 
al opposition to class that led Dickens on the path he followed. 

Let us now consider whether or not Dickens is a reformer 
who makes love the perfect panacea for all social sickness. When 
one reads him extensively, especially his best humorous passages, 
one becomes filled with a sense of ebullient joy and an all- em- 
bracing benevolence. Many of the unfortunates in his books are 
made happy again through affection and sympathy, and his best- 
loved characters are always bounteous in their distribution of 
the milk of human kindness. But Dickens, although he devoutly 
believed that the second and great commandment, if earnestly fol- 
lowed by men, would solve many social difficulties, was not so 
optimistic as to suppose that fraternal love was a cure-all. Mr. 
Scrooge, when he becomes regenerated by the Christmas spirit , 
brings happiness into many lives: why should he not, when he had 
previously been the chief cause of their unhappiness ? On the 


other hand, unintelligent, unlimited good-feeling is not ad- 
vocated by Dickens, for Mrs.Jellyby, with her impractical and 
visonary philanthropy is vividly satirized by him. We see in 
Esther Summers on a cooperation of love with skill, and yet even 
she cannot bring more than a temporary brightness into the lives 
of the poor brickmakers in "Bleak House". Mr. Pickwick in the 
Fleet does much good, but when he goes away, the wretched people 
live on in their squalor and misery. Dickens knew that love was 
a necessary part , but not the whole of reform. What the whole 
of it was, perhaps he never fully appreciated, for his chief work 
was in preparing the way for others to make social revolutions. 

When we look more closely into his work, we begin to see 
that Dickens' purpose in his novels was not so much to lay out 
a definite platform of reform, as it was to call attention to 
the things which needed improvement, and to foster a spirit of 
sympathy and kindliness through which people should be inspired 
to alleviate suffering and wrong. In none of his novels, however 
vehemently he attacks abuses, does he outline a scheme of reform 
to right the wrongs he has so clearly set forth. Chancery robbed 
Miss Flite of her sanity, destroyed the life of Richard Carstone 
and the happiness of his family, and cast its shadow over many 
other homes. When we finish reading the book, we feel the ruth- 
less power of this juggernaut of the law, our f pity and terror 1 
have been awakened, but, for all we learn from Dickens, the same 
relentless force goes on and will still go on unless society takes 
the matter in hand. He makes clear that Bumbledom has been a 
curse to childhood, but he gives the world no theory as to how 


the evil system is to be rooted out. It is true that Dickens 
makes much of the virtue of benevolence, and when one sees how 
he rejoices in the narration of the deeds of his 'good fairies' 
one is inclined to feel - as perhaps the author himself did - 
'how quickly the millenium would come if everyone did his neigh- 
borly duty by everyone else' I And so it would - But Dickens 
was too keen an observer of life not to realize that everyone 
didn't, and he tried to show what happened when men failed to 
meet their obligations. He pictured the squalor, the sickness 
and wretchedness of the poor, the inconsiderate pride and is- 
olation of the rich, the selfishness and sly malice of unscrupu- 
lous lawyers, the misery and degradation of prisoners. But in 
all the welter of unhappiness and crime, he never failed to 
bring a gleam of hope for better things. He was aware that the 
majority of persons are not moved to action by an unbroken con- 
templation of the gloomy side of life. The best reformer must 
feel that there is hope for reform. He must hate the evil, but 
must try to understand what causes it in the evil-doer, and at- 
tempt to sympathize with its victim. So, through the dark 
scenes in Dickens' books, move the well-known and well-loved 
characters of light, who in their small way, ameliorate, but do 
not banish evil, and who, by the undeniably helpful spirit of 
their service, remind the reader that after all, "now abide th 
faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love." 

Prom a study of the purpose of his novels, we may say 
that Dickens rather exposes evils than prescribes remedies for 
them. Knowing the predominant optimism of his philosophy, it 


may be just as well that he was more a diagnostician than a 
social surgeon, for if he had been the latter, his plans of re- 
form might have been outgrown with changing ideals of social 
service. As it is, he pointed out the abuses, and they stand 
unmasked for the world to challenge. His mission was the dis- 
covery of the disease, and he practiced a kind of mental sug- 
gestion upon his patients in order to give them the proper at- 
titude for overcoming their ills. W. H. Helm, in his introduction 
to a volume of selections from Dickens, makes this comment: "We 
have not to criticize in detail those philanthropic efforts of 
Dickens, we have to remember that they were earnest, and that he 
helped to expose grave abuses which began to shrivel in the 
glare of publicity. He was not a mere destroyer of evil. Much 
of the seed he sowed in the social field was sound, and brought 
forth good fruit. If at the present moment there are thousands 
of people speaking and writing phrases of Dickens without the 
least consciousness of the source of their words, there are also 
thousands projecting or doing kindly acts for the bettering of 
private or public matters, whose minds are working in a sequence 
of thought which came from the words of Dickens, and may have 

rt 1 

originated there. 

Dickens' doctrine of affectionate sympathy was not a sol- 
ution of the social problem, but a part of a foundation upon 
which a solution could be built - a solution which he did not 
think out to its completion. It seems to me that his mission 
will not appear to have been misguided, unless we impute to him 

1 Helm, W. H. , Introduction to "Charles Dickens" ( 1912) ,p.xvii. 


a larger task than he himself set out to perform. He laid leg- 
itimate emphasis on the things which advanced his purpose, lim- 
ited though it was, and because he had a wonderful power within 
these limits, he was eminently successful, J, C. Walters sums up 
this aspect of Dickens' work so well that I shall quote his words 
somewhat at length. He calls Dickens a 'soldier, not a scien- 
tist', and continues: "Once more it should be said that critic, 
reformer, patriot as he was, it does not necessarily follow that 
he had a precise science to expound, or that he fully understood 
every phase of the subject wherein he saw there was need of re- 
dress. He was rather the exposer of evils than the mender; he 
indicated where faults lay, and he reproached those who were 
responsible; he marked the course of a disease, but did not offer 
himself as the physician who could cure it. He was humanitarian 
by temperament, and perhaps he possessed more pity than pract- 
ical politics. But that is not to his discredit. We must have 
the preacher to exhort as well as the practitioner to prescribe. 
Dickens supplied inspiration - that was no mean part of his 

The criticism that the characters in the novels are either 

black or white may, I think, be disposed of quite rapidly. Surely 
anyone who has read at all widely in Dickens has become aware 
of the fact that such a statement is one of unwarranted gener- 
ality. It implies that one meets in Dickens-land only sweet 
young things, perfect paragons, or vile villains, whose inaccess- 

1 Walters, J. C. , "Phases of Dickens " (1911), p. 270. 


ibility and elevation ( or corresponding degradation) from the 
common level of life would render them incapable of holding the 
reader's respect or interest, and so would be devoid of influ- 
ence. There is no need to deny that one does find these extreme 
types of blackness and whiteness in Dickens, but they are not so 
much in the majority that one should feel at all justified in 
branding all his characters with that trademark. What of Pip, 
with his vacillations between conscience and selfish desire ; Miss 
Tox, with her little, affected ways and too abject humility for 
Mr. Dombey - traits which for a while almost prevent us from ap- 
preciating her real kindness of heart; Richard Carstone with his 
frank, attractive boyishness, clouded by one fatal obsession; 
Dick Sniveller, carefree and careless, but showing himself cap- 
able of deeper seriousness and kindliness; Sidney Carton, a weak 
young good-for-nothing rising through love to the height of nob- 
ility in sacrifice; and Nancy, the girl of the streets, with her 
grievous errors of life, redeemed by some remnants of unselfish- 
ness and affection; - are these figures (only a few of many which 
might be mentioned) not of the desired 'gray mixture' ? And the 
characters of Dickens who are most delightfully famous as expon- 
ents of good cheer need not run the risk of being classed with 
the sentimental heroes and heroines - the 'glad girls and boys' 
of the " be joyful" books. Those of Dickens are usually not 
perfect either in beau^ty or disposition, but are loveably queer 
and charmingly odd. They do not revolutionize society by the 
magnetic force of their personality, nor do they win the love of 
everyone within the wide radius of their influence - powers so 


generally possessed in the fiction of sentiment a lisra. Indeed, 

in the preface to "Oliver Twist", Dickens states clearly his 


understanding of the dual nature of hman personality - a belief 
strongly held by the humanists. In justifying the elements of 
good in the depraved character of Nancy, he sfas: "It is em- 
phatically God's truth, for it is the truth he leaves in such 
depraved and miserable breasts; the hope yet lingering behind; 
the last fair drop of water at the bottom of the dried-up, weed- 
choked well* It involves the best and worst shades of our com- 
mon nature; much of its ugliest hues, and something of itft most 
beautiful; it is a contradiction, an anomaly, an apparent impos- 
sibility, but it is a truth." 

In the sentimentalist's world, the good are always reward- 
ed and the wicked receive their deserts of an opposite kind. 
Dickens had the type of mind which, delighting in goodness and 
happiness, was vigorously opposed to all evil, and so it is not 
unnatural to find him, in the endings of his books, pretty lib- 
erally handing out the crowns of glory, or laying about him 
with Lhe chastising rod. One can hardly justify the incredibly 
optimistic final tableaux of his novels, but one may attempt to 
understand or explain them. Dickens had an implicit trust in 
the ultimate triumph of good over evil - a faith not in itself 
sentimental, but wholesomely Christian. His attitude as a 
teacher could have been expressed in the very words of Christ: 
"It is impossible but that stumbling should come; but woe unto 
him through whom they cornel It were well for him if a mill-stone 
were hanged about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, 


rather than he should cause one of these little ones to stum- 
ble," ^ Religion and the general experience of the world en- 
courage us to hope that there is truth in the words, "the wrong 
shall fail, the right prevail" - at least ultimate truth, al- 
though we ourselves may not always live to see its accomplish- 
ment. The righteous may have at least a mental and spiritual 
peace in this world, and the wicked, never secure in their hap- 
piness, suffer retribution in some manner, even if it be not in 
material ways. The fault of Dickens was that his enthusiastic 
optimism condensed this universal truth - which often requires 
a lifetime or generations to fulfill itself - into the compass 
of a book. Thus the endings of his novels are too frequently 

unnatural, and close the story like a fairy-tale. Joyous co- 


incidences are/bound to happen in life as the less fortunate 
happenings, but Dickens is apt to finish his books just about 
the time when these happy dispensations occur, and it is strange 
to contemplate how they materialize all at once, and how all the 
good people rejoice in a general jubilee, while the evil- doers 
writhe in the toils of their misdeeds. Exceptions may of course 
be found to the strict rule of poetic justice, but they are 
very evidently exceptions in the case of Dickens: Tom Pinch 
never gains the girl he loves, but he is not unhappy, for he has 
Ruth to love and help him; the Bumbles are not publicly de- 
nounced, but one knows that their fo^nes are on the wane and 
that Mr. Brownlow and all good people heartily disapprove of 

1 Luke 17: 2. 


them; Sairy Gamp is net justly dispatched from the face of the 
earth, but continues to take her "little sip of liquor if she is 
so dispoged" although we feel sure that her professional services 
will he required less and less, and that some fine day she will 
come too near the Old Bailey and someone will furnish incriminat- 
ing evidence against her. Usually, however, the moral is too ob- 
viously drawn. Perhaps Dickens felt that for his simple audi- 
ence it was necessary to have poetic justice done so that they 
would unmistakably understand his lesson; perhaps his joy in 
playing the part of supreme arbiter at the bar for his own cre- 
ations led him to do it, but it is nevertheless true that the de- 
velopment of the characters in his stories should have been suf- 
ficiently obvious so as to be morally effective without the nec- 
essity of grab-bag endings. And such was indeed the case, although 
Dickens did not appear to recognize it, and thus his novels, with 
their continuous humor and satire, are entertaining and instruct- 
ive even if we entirely omit the final chapters. 

This undeniably sentimental tendency of Dickens does not 
interfere with the ethical value of his philosophy as a whole. 
His endings may be too concentratedly optimistic for most of us, 
but the distributed optimism throughout his books is based on a 
sound faith. He believed earnestly in the ultimate goodness of 
men and of society. He was not blind to the evil, but he hoped 
for regeneration. He recognized that evil is frequently caused 
by bad training and unwholesome environment (as in the case of 
Jonas Chuzzlewit or Rob the Grinder) although he showed in Oliver 


"the principle of good surviving though every adverse circum- 


stance, and triumphing at last. Some evil characters he en- 
deavors to lighten by bringing out a few redeeming traits, but 
of such as Bill Sikes he says, "I fear there are in the world 
some insensible and callous natures, that do become, at last, ut- 
terly and irredeemably bad," * To summarize the refutation of 
the charges brought against Dickens' philosophy: He does not 
show evil or good to be the possession of any one class, but rec- 
ognizes the right or wrong wherever he sees it; his sense, of duty 
as a reformer led him to describe in detail the condition of the 
poor. He was not the type of reformer who had a definite plat- 
form of reform, but took as his mission the discovering of dark 
places, and the encouraging of a proper spirit of benevolence 
and good cheer to carry on the work of illumination. The major- 
ity of his characters are neither gilded saints nor lost sinners, 
but combine the normal strength and weakness of humanity. His 
ethics were founded on sound Christian doctrine, and it was only 
his superabundant optimism which sometimes led him to endeavor 
to show all the judgments of heaven taking place on earth. From 
all he said and wrote, it appears to me that Dickens, far from 
being one-sided in his attitude toward human nature and society, 
was many-sided, and was constantly trying to see and understand 
the whole panorama of human life. Some parts of the picture may 
be over-developed, others may not be so distinct, but we are a- 

2 Ibid. 

1 "Oliver Twist," Preface. 


ware of the whole expanse. Chesterton expresses himself aptly 
upon the subject of Dickens' optimistic philosophy: n If Dickens 
was an optimist, he was an uncommonly active and useful kind of 
optimist. If Dickens was a sentimentalist, he was a very pract- 
ical sentimentalist. And the reason of this is one that goes 
deep into Dickens' social reform, and like every other real and 
desirable thing, involves a kind of mystical contradiction. If 
we are to save the oppressed, we must have two apparently antag- 
onistic emotions in us at the same time. We must think the op- 
pressed man intensely miserable, and at the same time intensely 
attractive and important. We must insist with violence upon 
his degradation: we must insist with the same violence upon his 
dignity." 1 

Dickens shows a tendency toward sentimental ism in his op- 
timistic outlook upon life, but his scope was far too inclusive 
to allow a tendency to become an obsession. So we may conclude 
that his philosophy - far from being narrow, false and unethical, 
was broad, vital, and full of moral significance. As his phil- 
osophy pervaded all he wrote, we will expect to find also that 
his humor and satire have ethical value, and in order to determ- 
ine it, we shall proceed to a study of his manner of using these 
two qualitities. 

Chesterton, G.K., "Charles Dickens" (1906), pp. 271,272. 


Chapter IV 

The Character of Dickens' Appeal 
When we look over the large body of Dickens criticism, we 
become aware that although critics have differed widely in their 
opinions of the author's philosophy and the characteristic traits 
of his work, the majority of them concede that, whatever faults 
of manner or philosophical viewpoint they may believe him to have 
possessed, he did exert a tremendous influence upon the life of 
his time. In the first chapter I have quoted critical opinions 
which tend to establish Dickens' place as a social teacher and 
reformer. They all more or less find expression in the fine 
tribute paid by the Bishop of Manchester at the great novelist's 

He has been called... an apostle of the people. I sup- 
pose it is meant that he had a mission, but in a style and 
fashion of his own; a gospel, a cheery, joyous, gladsome mes- 
sage, which the people understood, and by which they could 
hardly help being bettered; for it was the gospel of kindli- 
ness, of brotherly love, of sympathy in the widest sense of 
the word. • • • • He who has taught us our duty to our fellow - 
men better than we knew it before, who knew so well to weep* 
with them who wept, and rejoice with them that rejoiced, who 
has shown forth in all his knowledge of the dark corners of the 

* See Chapter I, p. 9. (Crotch, W. Walter; Hughes, James L. ) ; 
p. 12 (Crotch, W. Walter; Walters, J.C.); p. 13 (Norton, Charles 
Eliot; Swinburne, Algernon C. ) ; p. 14 (Chesterton, G.K.; Col- 
lier, W.F.) p. 15 (Crotch, W. Walter; Hughes, James L; Irving, 
Walter) ; p. 16 (Chesterton, G.K.; Farrar, Frederick W. ; Mur- 
ray, D.W. );p. 17 (Canning, Albert S.G.; Chesterton, G.K. ; Gissing, 
George; Walters, J.C. ). 


earth, how much sunshine may rest upon the lowliest lot , 
who had such evident sympathy with suffering, and such a nat- 
ural instinct of purity that there is scarcely a page of the 
thousands he has written which might not be put into the hands 
of a little child, must be regarded by those who recognize 
the diversity of the gifts of the spirit, as a teacher sent 
from God. He would have been welcomed as a fellow- labourer 
in the common interests of humanity by Him who asked the quest 
ion: ' If a man love not his brother whom he hath seen, how 
shall iie love God whom he hath not seen ? 1 " 1 

Knowing Dickens' purpose as we do, understanding his phil- 
osophy, and seeing how the results of his work have been apprec- 
iated by his contemporaries as well as by critics of our own day, 
we may, I believe, safely interpret his influence as having 
ethical value. A mistaken idea would hardly persist so long and 
so continuously as has the tradition of Dickens 1 service to so- 

In order to judge of the particular ethical value of Dick- 
ens 1 humor and satire, it will be our plan to study his methods 
of using them. In the very beginning we realize that if ethics 
is to be widely and dynamically related to conduct, it must be 
presented in such a manner as to appeal to the greatest number 
of people, and to appeal not only to their interest but to their 
understanding as well. The average person does not judge of eth- 
ical values by the formulated rules of a system, but rather by 
the degree in which certain qualities meet a conventional ideal 
of what is considered right in principle and conduct. An appeal 
to the general sentiment does not mean that standards are to be 
lowered, but that a common chord is to be struck, a chord none 

Vorster, John, "Life of Charles Dickens" (n. d.) Ed. Chapman 
and Hall, p. 561. 


th e less true and fine for its universality. Dickens gained his 

contact with the universal heart through his humor. Upon this 

fact Gissing comments with discernment: 

"Holding as he did that the first duty of an author is to in- 
fluence his reader for good, Dickens necessarily esteemed as 
the most precious of his gifts that by virtue of which he com- 
manded so great an audience. Without his humor, he might have 
been a vigorous advocate of social reform, but as a novelist 
assuredly he would have failed; and as to the advocacy of far- 
reaching reforms by men who have only earnestness and eloquence 
to work with, English history tells its tale. Only because 
they laughed with him so heartily, did multitudes of people 
turn to discussing the question his page suggested,,.. Humor 
is the soul of n w £i|?£? rk * kike the soul of man, it permeates 
a living fabric/ out for its creative breath, could never have 
existed." 1 

It was Dickens 1 theory that if you are to do any good as 

an adviser and teacher, you must first be friends with those you 

intend to teach. Few people like to have undisguised moral pills 

rammed down their throats, but let them see the suger coating, 

and they will take the dose willingly. Then when they have sucked 

off the sweetness and they come unawares upon the bitter, they 

will swallow that too, because the sweet taste lingers with them, 

Mr. Walters expresses this idea in different words when he says: 

"None suspected that this man of mirth was the strict- 
est of censors; none imagined that his gambols were a plan of 
his campaign.... He was described as the "new humorist",.... 
and was thought to be a clever clown; and when he cracked his 
whip the gallant onlookers grinned, though it happened, quite 
accidentally, that the lash had a teasing habit of cutting 
across their flaccid faces. For he was only the jester, with 
japes and jollity, and the gentlemen of England split their 
sides at his Pickwick and Weller. But, when they were won to 
his side, held by his art, gathered in huge concourse, the 
jester revealed himself as knight-errant." 2 

2 Walters, J.C., "Phases of Dickens" (1911), pp. 269-270. 
1 Gissing, George, ^Charles Dickens" (1912); pp. 215- 216. 


This was Dickens' method of approach, and Chesterton says 
he should never have departed from it. ^ Gissing remarks: 

"What is called the popular conscience was on Dickens' 
side; and he had the immense advantage of being able to raise 
a hearty laugh even whilst pointing his lesson. Among the 
rarest of things is this thorough understanding between author 
and public, permitting a man of genius to say aloud with im- 
punity that which all his hearers say within themselves dumbly, 
inarticulately. Dickens never went too far; never struck at a 
genuine conviction of the multitude... Would argument or auth- 
ority have helped for one moment to win him a patient hearing ? 
We know that he never desired to provoke such antagonism. 
Broadly speaking, he was one with his readers, and therein lay 
his strength for reform." 2 

As to the relative values of Dickens' humor and satire, it 
may be said at the outset that in his use of satire he probably 
had a more specific ethical purpose, and accomplished more pow- 
erful, tangible results, while the effect of his pure humor, being 
usually upon the reader's own personal thoughts and actions, is 
therefore less evident. Nevertheless, especially for the reasons 
quoted above, it is through its mingling with humor that even the 
fiercest satire gains its appeal and retains its interest • The 
pages of humor and humorous satire in his books live longer in 
the memories of delighted readers than the few passages in which 
he writes in an almost unalloyed satiric vein. The uncompromising 
satire may outlive its use, but the humor will be perennially re- 

The General Method of Dickens 

Dickens makes character rather than situation the medium 

? Gissing, George, "Charles Dickens",. ( 1912 ). 
1 Chesterton, G7K., ^Charles Dickens" (1906), 


through which he allows his humor and satire its freest play , 
and the best - and that means the majority - of his humorous and 
satiric characters are remarkable for their vividness. However 
much the reader may think the figures are exaggerated or impossible 
they nevertheless remain indelibly impressed upon his memory. 
They all stand out clearly differentiated from every other kind, 
and even from others of their own kind. Mr. Micawber and Mark 
Tapley, alike as to their invincible optimism, are nevertheless 
both unique creations. Captain Cuttle, Pickwick, and Mr. Grew- 
gious do not merge into a single composite personality, although 
they possess in common the qualities of kindness, cheerfulness 
and naivete. Each character has its own divine and inalienable 
trademark printed upon it by the master-hand. ' 

Dickens, in the master-pieces of his humor and satire, gives 
us not only personality, but the essence of personality. It is 
"personality plus" - exaggerated if you will, but an exaggeration 
which comes nearer the essential truth in its effect than the 
rather drab reality too many of us in our blindness see. In at- 
tempting to understand Dickens 1 method, it might be illuminating 
to draw a parallel from our own personal experience. Is it not 
true that we often think of our acquaintances and friends as em- 
bodiments of certain outstanding qualities - this one of sweet- 
ness, that one of energy and vigor, another of unselfishness, and 
so on - and thafe in all their words and actions we are inclined 
to see a reflection of their dominant trait? I believe that Dick- 
ens looked upon life in this way, and that in his great charact- 


ers (which are nearly all examples of humorous or satiric por- 
traiture) he exemplified this general fact. FOrster expresses the 
opinion that "what a character, drawn by a master, will roughly 
present upon its surface, is frequently such as also to satisfy 
its more subtle requirements; and that when only the salient 
points or sharper prominences are thus displayed, the great nov- 
elist is using his undoubted privilege of showing the large degree 
to which human intercourse is carried on, not by men's habits or 
ways at their commonest, but by the touching of their extremes." * 
In the novels in which the reader's companionship with the char- 
acters is necessarily short, and the time in which a lasting im- 
pression can be made is brief, he condensed - sublimated-person- 
ality. and gave us its essence. It is intensified, vitalized, and 
is startlingly vivid. And the reason the reader does not feel 
cheated out of real human contact, is that Dickens always inten- 
sifies or exaggerates on the side of truth. Chesterton develops 
this point in commenting upon the character of the blue old Major 
in "Dombey and Son" (1848); 

"Major Bagstock is a grotesque, and yet he contains touch 
after touch of Dickens's quiet and sane observation of things 
as they are. He was always most accurate when he was most fan- 
tastic. Dombey and Florence are perfectly reasonable, but we 
simply know that they do not exist. The major is mountainously 
exaggerated, but we all feel that we have met him at Brighton. 
Nor is the rationale of this paradox difficult to see: Dickens 
exaggerated when he found a real truth to exaggerated. • In one 
sense, truth alone can be exaggerated; nothing else can stand 
the strain." 2 

We look upon the Dickens characters with the penetrative in- 

2 Chesterton, G.K., "Charles Dickens" (1906), pp. 188-189. 

1 Forster, John, "Life of Charles Dickens" (n. d.). Ed. Chapman 

and Hall, p. 589. 


sight of the author's personality, and they enlarge upon our 
vision until we see then with startling clearness. He himself 
never thought he was exaggerating, and it is probably true that 
what appears to many of us at first glance unusual, was merely 
the divinely common-place to Dickens, No two persons look at 
the same thing in the same way, and because our sight may be ob- 
scured, and because Dickens was undoubtedly second-sighted, shall 
we have the presumption to say that it was Dickens 1 vision which 
was wholly at fault ? In his characteristically eager way, he 
defends himself against the charge of false exaggeration. The 
preface to "Dombey and Son" (1848) contains the following: "I 
make so bold as to believe that the faculty (or the habit) of 
closely and carefully observing the characters of men, is a rare 
one. I have not even found, within my experience, that the fac- 
ulty (or the habit) of closely and carefully observing the faces 
of men is a general one by any means." In the preface to "Martin 
Chuzzlewit" (1843) he reiterates: 

"What is exaggeration to one class of minds and per- 
ceptions is plain truth to another. That which is commonly 
called a long-sight, perceives in a prospect innumerable feat- 
ures and bearings non-existent to a short-sighted person. I 
sometimes ask myself whether there may occasionally be a dif- 
ference of this kind between some writers and some readers; 
whether it is always the writer who colours highly, or whether 
it is now and then the reader whose eye for colour is a little 
dull ? 

"On this head of exaggeration I have a positive exper- 
ience, more curious thar the speculation I have just set down. 
It is this:- I have never touched a character precisely from 
life, but some counterpart of that character has incredulously 
asked me, f Now really, did I ever really see one like it? 1 " 

"Martin Chuzzlewit", Preface, Ed. Dana Estes and Co. (n.d.) 


Chesterton here shows a brilliant understanding of Dickens 1 at- 
titude which relates the author's own conception of himself and 
the reader's understanding of him: 

"Dickens was not content with being original, he had a 
wild wish to be true. He loved truth so much in the abstract 
that he sacrificed to the shadow of it his own glory. He denied 
his own divine originality, and pretended that he had plagi- 
arized from life. He disowned his own soul's children and said 
he had picked them up in the street. 

"And in this mixed and heated mood of anger, and ambition, 
vanity and doubt, a new design was born. He loved to be romant- 
ic, yet he desired to be real. How if he wrote of a thing that 
was real and showed it to be romantic ? He loved real life; 
but he also loved his own way. How if he wrote his own real 
life, but wrote it in his own way ? How if he showed the carp- 
ing critics who doubted the existence of his strange characters 
his own yet stranger existnece ? How if he forced these pedants 
and unbelievers to admit that Weller and Pecksniff, Crummies 
and Swiveller, whom they thought so improbably wild and wond-. 
erful, were less wild and wonderful than Charles Dickens ? " 

James Russell Lowell in his essay on Chaucer makes a remark 
apropos of the Father of English Poetry, which might also be ad- 
mirably applied to Dickens. He asserts that "to make the common- 
xxx&s marvelous, as if it were a revelation, is the test of gen- 
ius." ^ 'Making the common marvelous' precisely characterizes 
what Dickens did. He presents men and women in their queerness, 
or sordidness, or in their very common-placeness, and then, al- 
though we forget none of these things, by some magic he trans- 
mutes all the grossness or oddity into something to be loved or 
laughed over, - at any rate something to be treasured in the mem- 
ory and thought over after the first enjoyment is past. One would 
turn with loathing from a reminiscence of Mrs. Gamp were her 

Lowell, James Russell, "Chaucer", My Study Windows, Houghton 
Mifflin Co., (1899), p. 228. 

1 Chesterton, G.K., "Charles Dickens" (1906), pp. 194-195. 


coarseness and intemperance presented with unbroken solemnity. 
But Dickens sees something vastly amusing in this fat, vulgar 
old nurse. We feel sure that he takes uproarious pleasure, as 
we do, in the fiction of the invisible Mrs. Harris. Sairy is a 
liar, but her chief lie is such a master-piece that we prefer it 
to the truth. Sairy is unfeeling and selfish, and dines magnif- 
icently on pickled slamon and cowcumbers while her patient tosses 
in an agony of feverish delirium. ^ The reader realizes perfect- 
ly that she is among the lowest of creatures - Dickens shows us 
no aspect of her which would contradict this realization - and 
yet the more we can see Sairy Gamp and hear her discourse, the 
greater becomes our fascination for her. Despite this idealiza- 
tion (Gissing calls it f, the sublimation of the essence of Gamp") 
by which the unpleasant traits of Sairy seem somehow to be not 
present, we are - as Dickens wished us to be - overpoweringly 
convinced that she is the epitome of vulgarity and selfishness, 
and that she is an insult to her profession. George Gissing, who 
devotes several pages of his book to the unequalled Sarah, explains 

"Vulgarity he leaves; that is the essence of the matter. 
Vulgarity unsurpassable is the essence of Mrs. Gamp. Vileness, 
on the other hand, becomes grotesquerie, wonderfully converted 
into a subject for laughter. Her speech, the basest ever 
heard from human tongue, by a process of infinite subtlety , 
which leaves it the same and yet not the same, is made an end- 
less amusement, a source of quotation for laughing lips in- 
capable of unclean utterance." 2 

Gissing says, moreover, that there is a difference between these 

figures of Dickens, humorously conceived and idealized, and those 

2 Gissing, George, "Charles Dickens" (1912), pp. 114-115. 
1 "Martin Chuzzlewit", vol. 2, chap. 25, pp. 462, 463. 


which are drawn in deadly seriousness, with an even greater 
idealization (such as Alice Marlow in "Dombey and Son" N . In the 
former a portion of the truth is omitted, but in the latter there 
has been a substitution of falsity, 1 

The Wellers (and I shall speak here particularly of the eld- 
er Weller) are another example of those creations which Dickens 
immortalized by idealizing them. We know that Mr, Weller is what 
some people would call intemperate. He is exceedingly fond of 
porter, and is supremely happy in his favorite bench at the Blue 
Boar. Undoubtedly his nose was red and his clothes were redolent 
of the stable. There is no attempt on the part of Dickens to 
conceal these eccentricities, but, in spite of ourselves, we grow 
almost to love them and consider them an inevitable part of the 
bigger and better Weller who wins us irresistibly by his jovial, 
unaffected optimism. What if he is naive and impractical ? If, 
withal, he can get as much enjoyment out of life as he does, 
should we begrudge it him ? Dickens does not intend Tony Weller 
to represent the ultimate ideal of manhood, but simply as a man 
abundantly filled with the joy of living. Paul Elmer More com- 
plains that "probably old Weller got such hilarious glee out of 
the misdoings of his wife and Stiggins as his words import, but 
what of a thousand weaker souls who hug the evil conditions of 
their lot ? " To me that seems just the reason why Tony Weller 
and others like him, should be - because there are a 'thousand 

2 More, Paul Elmer, "The Praise of Dickens", Shelb^rne Essays, 
Fifth Series (1908), p. 39. 

1 Gissing, George, ^Charles Dickens" (1912), p. 116. 


weaker souls' of whom every one knows, and whose weakness many 
have personally experienced, Tony is not an angel; he occasion- 
ally becomes angry when the Stigginses and other enlightened 
brethren overtempt his patience, and it has been said that some 
of hit, external characteristics are not of the most attractive. 
He is endowed with just enough human frailty that we are willing 
to believe that he is superhumanly gifted with the strength of 
good cheer. What people rarely see, but long to contemplate, is 
such an incarnation of unbounded good spirits as shire forth in 
Tony Weller (and Sam too for that matter). Unusual it may be- 
but that is what we crave: something above the level of the mere- 
ly conventional and prosaic. Browning's lines, 

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, 
Else what's a heaven for ? w 
seem to find a peculiarly fitting application here. The Wellers 
and many of Dickens' other characters, vivid in their idealized 
realism, are inspiring examples of a man's reach - and it is ours 
to grasp. 

Indeed, we may say that the unusual vividness of Dickens' 
humor and satire, with its idealization and sublimation of char- 
acter, is exaggeration which is in complete harmony with the 
truth, and produces an effect through its unmistakability and its 
heightening of human possibilities. Although it may seem para- 
doxical to say so, Dickens was the master of realism in the realm 
of idealization. He grasped the very essences of truth in 

Browning, Robert, "Andrea del Sarto," 11. 97,98. 

_ c, 

things, and showed them, not as they seem to be to the obscured 

vision, but as they are present to the eyes of a seer. Gissing f s 

criticism adequately refutes the charge of untrue exaggeration, 

and champions Dickens 1 method: 

"It seems to me that in all his very best work he pur- 
sues an ideal widely apart from that of caricature in any 
sense, and in other instances he permits himself an emphasis, 
like in kind to that of the caricaturist, but by its excellence 
of art, its fine sincerity of purpose, removed from every in- 
ferior association. To call Mrs* Gamp a caricature is an ob- 
vious abuse of language; not less so, I think, to apply the 
word to Mr. Pecksniff, or to Uriah Heep. Occasionally, missing 
the effect he intended, Dickens produced work which invites 
this definition; at times, again, he deliberately drew a fig- 
ure with that literary overcharging which corresponds to the 
exaggeration, small or great, of professed caricaturists with 
the pencil. His finest humor, his most successful satire, be- 
longs to a different order of art. To be convinced of this 
one need but think of the multiplicity of detail, all exquis- 
itely finished, which goes to make up his best known portraits. 
Pull justice has never been done to this abounding richness of 
invention, this untiring felicity of touch in minutiae innum- 
erable. Caricature proceeds by a broad and simple method. It 
is no more the name for Dickens 1 full fervour of creation, 
than for Shakespeare's in his prose comedy. Each is a sup- 
reme idealist." 1 

Dickens, then, was not a caricaturist in his best art. It is not 
true that his characters are 'conceived in the manner of Jonson's 

humours' and are not individual personalities, - that they stand 
for character, but not for persons. 8 He does give us striking- 
ly vivid portrayals of character , because he had the talent to 
see the inner as well as the outer man. The figures do represent 
character, as every person does, but it is so minutely individual 
and personal, that they are anything but abstract personifications. 

d See Chap. I,p.3;also Trail, Henry, D., "Social England" (1897), 
Vol. 6, p. 163. Cited in Moulton's Library, vol. VI., p. 597. 

1 Gissing, George, "Charles Dickens" (1912), pp. 168-169. 


Dickens does not present his men and women with psychological 
introspection, but if they were described merely externally ^ 
we would not see the vivid revealing of personality which is 
one of his chief traits. He sought the germ of truth and good 
which is in everyone: in some cases he found more of it, in 
some cases much less, but because it is not a thing to be found 
in externals alone, he sought and revealed it in the spirit. 
It was 'Dickens the great dramatic observer 1 who saw it, 
but first it was there to see, and he makes us recognize it too. 

Chapter I, p. 8. 
1 Chapter I, p. 7. 


Chapter V 


In studying Dickens 1 humor and satire, we find that the two 
are very closely related. The satire, and especially the satire 
at its best, is nearly always associated with humor, and it is 
rather difficult to determine the ethical value of Dickens 1 sat- 
ire unless one includes in his judgment the humor which is invar- 
iably combined with it. It is, however, somewhat easier to dis- 
cuss the ethical aspects of the humor aside from its use in sat- 
ire, beacuse the former is also used extensively in non-satiric 
work. Therefore we shall first consider some examples of Dick- 
ens 1 methods of humorous appeal. 

Dickens' humor has the delightful quality of genial warmth 
and friendly sympathy. We feel that the author more often laughs 
with his characters than at them - or if he does smile at their 
little foibles, it is with the utmost kindliness, entirely de- 
void of cynicism. As Gissing says, "Humour deals gently with 

fact and fate; in its smile there is forbearance, in its laugh 

» 1 

there is kindliness. Indeed we are not surprised to discover 

that one of Dickens 1 favorite types of character portrayal is 
that in which he can put before our eyes an unusual, even gro- 
tesque figure, and then magically invest its very oddity with 
something so charming, so lovable, and yet so laughable, that we 

1 Gissing, George, "Charles Dickens" (1912), p. 117. 


are at once captivated, and ashamed that we had hitherto been too 
blind to see the hidden charm he has revealed to us, Forster ap- 
preciates this attitude of Dickens, and says that he reached the 
ideal of his work, 

"not by presenting with added comeliness or grace the figures 
which life is ever eager to present as of its best, but by 
connecting the singularities and eccentricities which ordinary 
life is apt to reject or overlook, with the appreciation that 
is deepest and the laws of insight that are most universal. 
It is thus that everything human is brought within human sym- 
pathy. It was at the heart of whatever Dickens wrotei, making 
him the intimate of every English household, and a familiar 
friend wherever the language is spoken whose stores of harm- 
less pleasure he has so largely increased. Above all it was 
the secret of the hope he had that his books might help to 
make people better," 1 

I think this admirable trait of Dickens is rarely illust- 
rated better than in the delineation of the 'angular 1 Mr, Grew- 
gious of "Edwin Drood" (1869- ). He is so queer, and Dickens 
humorously sets him forth with such a thorough appreciation of 
his oddity; he is withal so lovable, and Dickens uses all his art 
to convince us of his unique charm. The reason we do not think 
of Mr. Grewgious as an ugly impossible old bore, is that he was 
so far from seeming so to Dickens, and the creator's kindly humor 
has miraculously revealed both outer eccentricity and inner love- 
liness. In his description of Mr. Grewgious we see this wonder- 
ful blending faculty of Dickens 1 art: 

"With too great length of throat at his upper end, and 
too much ankle-bone and heel at his lower; with an awkward and 
hesitating manner; with a shambling walk; and with what is 
called a near sight - which perhaps prevented hi«i observing 
how much white cotton stocking he displayed to the public eye, 
in contrast with his black suit - Mr. Grewgious still had some 

Forster. John, "Life of Charles Dickens" (n. d. ) , Ed. Chapman 
and Hall, pp. 588-589. 


strange capacity in him of making on the whole an agreeable 

And again, notice the humorous sympathy amounting almost to ten- 
derness : 

"His voice was as hard and dry as himself, and Fancy might 
have ground it straight, like himself, into high-dried snuff. 
And yet, through the very limited means of expression that he 
possessed, he seemed to express kindness. If Nature had but 
finished him off, kindness might have been recognizable in his 
face at this moment. But if the notches in his forehead would- 
n't fuse together, and if his face would work and wouldn't play, 
what could he do, poor man! " 

In his preface to "Pickwick" (1837-39), Dickens says that, "in 
real life the peculiarities and oddities of a man who has any- 
thing whimsical about him, generally impress us first, and that it 
is not until we are better acquainted with him that we usually 
begin to look below these superficial traits, and to know the bet- 
ter part of him." This natural process of development is followed 
by Dickens in his portrayal of Mr. Grewgious and in that of his 
other humorously eccentric characters. There is no surprising 
metamorph6sis-the odd characters are still odd at the end of the 
story - but one has learned to understand and love them, because 
the humor with which Dickens draws them is so penetratingly true 
and so exquisitely kind. He hints at his purpose when he comments 
upon the gentle way the 'Angular 1 and 'Unnatural' Mr. Grewgious 
takes care of Rosa Bud when she comes to him for protection: 

"The respectful tenderness with which, on one knee be- 
fore her, he helped to remove her hat, and disentangle her 
pretty hair from it, was quite a chivalrous sight. Yet who, 
knowing him only on the surface, would have expected chivalry - 

Ibid., Chap. DC, p. 84. 
"Edwin Drood," Chap. IX, p. 82. 


and of the true sort, too, not the spurious - from Mr. Grew- 
gious ?" 1 

No,. Mr. Grewgious is not 'Angular 1 or 'Unnatural 1 , even though 
he himself thinks so. Someone saw the revelation such characters 
as his hold, and has made us see it too. 

Captain Ed'ard Cuttle is another classic example of Dickens' 
charitable and revealing humor - the old captain - "when found 
make a note of" - with his ruddy nose full of shiny knobs, the 
inevitable hard hat and its inevitable red ring upon the forehead 
of its owner, the flapping blue coat, and the versatile hook. 
(One sees that he belongs to the Grewgious family!) His naivete 
and 'amazing artfulness", although almost ludicrous, awaken in 
us a kindly smile rather than loud laughter. The Captain's em- 
bassy to Mr. Dombey in behalf of Florence and Wal'r is impossibly 
impractical, and tragically funny, - Dickens appreciates the 
humor of it all, but that does not make him sneer at the spirit 
of the worthy seaman. He understands him , and wishes us to do 
so too. Dickens says: 

"Captain Cuttle, in the exercise of that surprising tal- 
ent for deep-laid and unfathomable scheming, with which ( as is 
not unusual in men of transparent simplicity ) he sine ere ly~T>e- 
lieved himself to be endowed by nature, had gone to Mr. Dombey' s 
house on the eventful Sunday, winking all the way, as a vent 
for his superfluous sagacity, and had presented himself in the p 
full lustre of his ankle- jacks before the eyes of Towlinson." 

The Captain who could care so tenderly and reverently for Flor- 
ence in her sorrow, is not to be scoffed at, despite his ruddy 
nose, a hard hat, or other minor external traits. Dickens loved 

2 "Dombey and Son", Vol. I, Chap. XVII, p. 255. 
1 "Edwin Drood", Chap. XX, p. 223. 


such men for theiressential manliness, and he makes us love and 
respect them as well. 

In Captain Cuttle and Mr. Grewgious, I have described in 
some detail Dickens' method of portraying this type of charact- 
er, because his method here is characteristic of the many sim- 
ilar portraits which he created so lavishly. Susan Nipper, 
blunt, sturdy, defiant, - even Dickens called her "Spitfire" at 
her first appearance, and says that she was "so desperately 
sharp and biting that she seemed to make one's eyes water" - 
what limitless capacity for tenderness and staunch loyalty does 
she display in her love for "Miss Floy" - until, like Toots, we 
feel inclined to say "the often©? we can repeat that extraordin- 
ary woman the better." 2 Betsy Trotwood, the militant aunt of 
David Copperfield, in her irate disappointment at David's being 
David and not Betsy T. Copperfield, throws her bonnet at unof- 
fending Dr. Chillip; but later she takes the little boy into 
her care, and shows us that after all, under the brusque ag- 
gressiveness of her manner, she has a heart of gold. * Mrs. 
Jarley, of the famous wax- works, may have a certain amount of 
vulgarity, and professional vanity and condescension in her 
disposition, - she imbibes freely of the contents of a suspic- 
ious bottle, and she grows shrill in her championship of the 
Jarley Wax-works, which are the Alpha and Omega of existence to 

3 "David Copperfield," Vol. I, Chap. I, p. 13; Chap. XIV. 

2 Ibid., Vol. II, Chap. XXXII, p. 487. 

1 "Dombey and Son," V Q 1. I, Chap. Ill, p. 29. 


her - but for all that she is good-humored and kind, quite of 
her own accord, to little Nell and her grandfather. Miss Twin- 
kleton, of the Female Seminary in "Edwin Drood", is a typically 
humorous portrayal of the' old maid school ma'am 1 - icily regu- 
lar, splendidly null". It is when she leaves the school, gen- 
erously accompanies Rosa in her loneliness, and battles with 
the hostile Billicken, that she reveals another side of her nat- 
ure which has not been totally withered in her pedagogical ear- 
eer.* In all these figures we see the same appreciation of 
essential humor, and the same charitable, penetrative insight 
for essential worth. They all teach a lesson of true democracy, 
but not by a too obvious emphasis upon the moral. Dickens makes 
virtue comradely, and gives it an intimate, human touch. We 
become charmed with the enchanting oddity of the Cuttles, the 
Grewgiouses, and all their kind - we sympathize with their pe- 
culiarities, and suddenly we realize that we are letting these 
unique creatures ( who are so impractical and unworldly) teach 
us - the experienced, the conventional - something which we 
needed to know better than we did before! It is for some reas- 
on (probably a selfish one) a fact that the ordinary reader will 
more readily allow himself to be led into learning moral les- 
sons from some one who is just a trifle queerer or less fortun- 
ate than himself, whose personality is attractive enough to 
win respect, and to whom he feels himself bound by sympathy or 
interest, - than from some exquisite, super-mundane creature who 
has every advantage and every reason to be endowed with all the 

1 "Edwin Drood," Chap. XXII, p. 248-253. 


graces and virtues under the sun. Of course, one would not 

all of Dickens' characters 
wisjt/to be outwardly peculiar and inwardly lovely, It is not 

necessary to possess an uncouth exterior in order to be blessed 
with a pure heart. There are figures in Dickens which are both 
good and attractive, which have their little human idiosyncras- 
ies, but are not odd. Of such are. John Jaundyce, Ruth Pinch , 
Pip, and many others. I do not mention Dickens 1 stock figures of 
beauty and goodness which do not impress us as real. 

One critic^has said that Dickens 1 laughter is all of the 
fun-god, not of that desirable kind which has a touch of tears. 

1 think this is a mistake, and that some of Dickens 1 best humor 
in its sweetness and kindly understanding is touched with some- 
thing very like sadness, -and yet it is a pleasant and thankful 
sadness. It is this residue of sober thought that comes after 
the laughter which makes the picture linger in our minds. Char- 
acters like Mr. Grewgious, Susan Nipper, and Captain Cuttle are 
presented in aspects of pathetic humor, and the contrast of 
their grotesqueness with their gentleness is usually the source 
of it. The wild and red Miss Pross of "A Tale of Two Cities " 
(1859), despite her wildness and redness, rises almost to the 
height of grandeur in her affection for her Lady-bird, when she 
struggles with Madame Defarge in order to give Lucie more time 
to escape. There is a grim humor in Miss Pross T s manner of 
defying the terrible Frenchwoman, but there is nothing humorous 

2 "A Tale of Two Cities," Chap. XIV, pp. 389- 393. 

Merivale, Herman, "About Two Great Novelists," Temple Bar, 
vol. 83 ( ), p. 202. 


about her purpose or her unselfish devotion to her mistress. 
Miss Tox, with her affected little airs, and her sentimental 
idealizing of Mr. Dombey, is funny, and yet not funny when one 
stops to think of the lonely, uneventful life of this maiden- 
lady of uncertain years, who hopefully cherished a hopeless ro- 
mantic dream as wistfully as any girl, Traddles, bravely happy 
and optimistic in his poverty, unselfishly glad to help the Mic- 
awbers who are in even more straightened circumstances than him- 
self, is more pathetic in his humor than he could possibly be 
if he were consistently gloomy, and he ingratiates himself far 
deeper into our sympathies. Poor, afflicted Guster, the Snagsby ! s 
maid of all work - who can help but laugh at her awkwardness, her 
dullness; but who can help being touched by her kindness to Jo 
in whom she sees a fellow-outcast j and who, in spite of laughter, 
can help realizing that Guster is humanly more of a tragedy than 
a comedy ? 

In speaking of this type of humorous appeal, memory almost 
invariably summons up such scenes as that where the irrepressible 
Swiveller plays at cribbage with the poor little Marchioness, 
stunted in mind and body; or those pathetically funny moments 

when the abject Toots almost chokes with inexpressible adoration 
in the presence of Florence, and can only stammer out, "It's of 
no consequence." 2 The pictures of Wemmick and the Aged in 
"Great Expectations" (1860-61), are likewise of this kind. There 
is something highly amusing in the Castle, with all its little 

2 "Old Curiousity Shop," Vol. II, Chap. II, pp. 14-16. 
1 "Dombey and Son," Vol. II, Chap. XI, p. 161- 162. 




accessories especially designed by Wemmick for the delectation of 
the Aged Parent. There is something delieiously humorous about 
Wemmick 1 s solicitous care of his father, and in the latter* s en- 
joyment of his simple daily pleasures. It is worth going far to 
see the Aged ! s exultation in the nightly performance of the 
Stinger. ^ And yet to me there is a great deal more than mere 
humor there. There is the unmistakable significance of the sweet- 
ness of small joys, a realization that a little loving and un- 
selfish service can make the difference between mere life and 
life more abundantly. Through the humor we see a larger mean- 
ing; the simple things of everyday life are glorified and yet 
they are made to seem unaffectedly so. One feels the nobility 
of generous, spontaneous affection and serviqe. To illustrate 
with another well-known example: There is, of course, the 
Cratchits' Christmas dinner. Happiness and the Christmas spirit 
are here incarnate. Bob Cratchit only has fifteen "bob" a week, 
Tiny Tim is lame and frail, and the shadow of Scrooge hangs over 
the house, but on this day all is holiday cheer. The dinner, 
although it does not sound sumptuous from the bald enumeration 
of its viands, gives nevertheless an impression of magnificence. 

"There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't be- 
lieve there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and 
flavor, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal ad- 
miration. Eked out by the apple sauce and mashed potatoes, 
it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as 
Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight ( surveying one small 

1 "Great Expectations, " Chap. XXV, p. 217. 


atom of a "bone upon the dish) they hadn't ate it all at last! 
Yet Everyone had had enough, and youngest Cratchits in partic- 
ular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! " ^ 

The picture of this family making for themselves unlim- 
ited happiness out of their very limited resources, is I think 
at once full of keen humor and a certain pathos. It makes one 
ashamed to he discontented after one has heard Tiny Tim say, 
"God bless us everyone!" 

Although some of Dickens 1 humor has the 'touch of tears 1 , 
another type is that which is overflowing with the sense of joy 
and benevolence. In reading such passages one is carried away 
by the conviviality, the radiant good cheer that pours from the 
pages. One lingers with reminiscent pleasure over these happy 
scenes: The good comradeship of the Captain, and Sol Gills and 
Walter at the Little Midshipman, when the old Madiera is brought 
from its security, and the Captain roars the ballad of "Lovely 
Peg"; 2 the delightful intimacy of that dinner crowned by Ruth 
Pinch's beef-steak pudding; 3 the cozy warmth of Sunday evening 
tea by the fireside in Wemmick's Castle, with the Aged making 


mountains of toast, and Miss Skiff ins brewing jorams of tea. 

One cannot help being put in a pleasant humor when everyone else 

is having such a spontaneously, uproariously good time as that 

of the Christmas party of the Plckwickians at Dingley Dell, with 


everyone in jovial spirits, from the Fat Boy to Grandma Wardle; 

5 "Pickwick Papers," Chap. XXVIII. 

4 "Great Expectations," Chap. XXXVII. 

3 "Martin Chuzzlewit," Vol. II, Chap. XIV, pp. 220-222. 

2 "Dombey and Son, " Vol. I, Chap. IV, pp. 48-51; Chap. X, pp. 152-3 

1 "A Christmas Carol," pp. 48. 


or the dance at old Fezziwig' s, - Mrs, Fezziwig "one vast sub- 
stantial smile", and the one-piece orchestra "tuning like fifty 
stomach-aches," Scrooge, speaking to the Spirit, voices Dick- 
ens' message. The Ghost has just said, "A small matter to make 
these silly folks so full of gratitude,... He has spent but a few 
pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so 
much that he deserves this praise ?" And Scrooge repies: It isn't 
that, Spirit, He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; 
to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. 
Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight 
and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count 'em up. 

What then ? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it 


cost a fortune. 

Chesterton, in speaking of the effect of the "Christmas 

Carol" (1843), makes this comment: 

"The beauty and the real blessing of the story do not 
lie in the mechanical plot of it, the repentance of Scrooge, 
probable or Improbable; they lie in the gr^eat furnace of real 
happiness that glows through Scrooge and everything around 
him; that great furnace, the heart of Dickens, Whether the 
Christmas visions would or would not convert Scrooge, they con- 
vert us,,,. The story sings from end to end like a happy man 
going home; and, like a happy and good man, when it cannot 
sing, it yells." 2 

Lastly we come to the farcical humor of Dickens - the wonder- 
ful, impossibly wild creations like Mr. Mantalini, the oracular 
Bunsfey, the terrifying MacStinger, and the somnolent Fat Boy. 
Even a mere mention of their names brings a chuckle to the rem- 
iniscent reader of Dickens, Needless to say, they make no part- 

2 Chesterton, G.F., "Charles Dickens" (1906), p. 173 
1 "A Christmas Carol", pp. 33,34. 


icular appeal to the ethical sense, but a contemplation of their 
antics furnishes many a happy hour of relaxation in laughter - 
"A little laughter now and then, Is relished by the best of men"- 
and so even the pure humor for humor's sake has its value. 

Even a comparatively short survey of Dickens 1 method in 
his use of humor will convinde us that here we have something 
more than the work of "a matchless mimic", - "of no deep serious- 
ness"; - more than the ebullitions of an 'exuberance of animal 
spirits, ' and the playful offerings of a single-minded worshipper 
of the fun-god. * It is Dickens' conscious and serious purpose 
in his humor that transforms it from humor for humor's sake, into 
humor for humanity's sake. His talents might have led him to dis- 
play his gift in uproarious farce or stinging ridicule alone, but 
instead he used it for a larger end. Charitableness and tolerance 
are the distinguishing traits of his humor. He transfers to us 
his own strong belief that there is goodness and beauty even un- 
der unpromising exteriors. Chesterton reminds us: "If we are 
to look for lessons, here at least is the last and deepest lesson 
of Dickens. It is in our own daily life that we are to look for 
the portents and the prodigies. Some of Dickens 1 best humor 

has a touch of tears which arouses our affection and compassion, 
and gives us a better understanding of the sweetness and fineness 
of human relationships. Then, too, there is the frankly exuberant 
humor of unbounded benevolence and good cheer, which is inevit- 

2 Chesterton, G.K., "Charles Dickens" (1906), p. 264. 
1 See Chapter I, pp. 2, 3. 


ably communicated from author to reader, and the farcically hum- 
orous creations which awaken hearty and soul-stirring laughter. 
Of course Dickens was a superlative mimic; to be sure he was over- 
flowing with boyish exuberance; it is useless to deny that he 
did pay homage to the fun- god; - but we must look farther than 
these few aspects of humor when we study a man of such versatile 
genius as Dickens, especially when we know that his genius was 
dedicated to a high purpose. 


Chapter VI 


Of Dickens 1 satire it may be stated with truthful gen- 
erality, that it always concerned itself with something worth 
satirizing, SometXimes it was the mismanagement of the gov- 
ernment, or of prisons or schools, sometimes it was an em- 
bodied national wakness, sometimes merely a personal charact- 
eristic which was attacked, but it was invariably some cond- 
ition which Dickens' keen sight saw to be in need of improve- 
ment. We have seen that he emphasized certain things more 
than others because he was writing for a particular time with 
its particular evils, but that his philosophy of life, which 
is reflected in his satire, possessed soundness and strength. 
Dickens 1 satire was often marvelously successful in attaining 
the ends he desired, at other times much less so, but at all 
times it was earnest and sincere in purpose, untainted by cyn- 

Theoretically the ethical appeal should be strongest in 
the novels which contain the most uncompromising satire little 
relieved by humor, because there the moral purpose is so unf linch 
ingly kept before the reader. On the contrary, just the op- 
posite is true. The school in "Hard Times" (1854) does not 
make so lasting an impression upon us as does Mr. Blimber's 
famous forcing establishment in "Dombey and Son" (1848), nor as 
does the infamous institution called a school, presided over 


by Mr, Squeers. When Dickens looks only on the darker side 
of life, we somehow feel that he has lost his wholesome, bal- 
anced outlook upon the world. When Dickens is hopelessly de- 
pressed, we despair with him. We miss the powerful contact 
of the motive and creative energy that come from him in his 
happier moments. Of "Little Dorrit" (1856-57), which has in 
it much of tragical satire, Mr. Chesterton makes the criticism: 

m It is nothing that a man dwells on the darkness of 
dark things; all healthy men do that. It is when he dwells 
on the darkness of bright things that we have reason to fear 
some disease of the emotions.... "Little Dorrit" is a very 
interesting, sincere, and fascinating book. But for all 
that, I fancy it is the one collapse." 1 

An example of the two methods of treatment and their rel- 
ative success may be seen in Mr. Micawber and Mr. Dorrit • 
Chesterton asserts that these two portraits are tiro different 
views of the same man, Dickens' father. One was drawn in a 
mood of humorous insight which saw the brighter side of unsuc- 
cess, the other in a mood of depression which was aware only of 
the disappointing failure. "The whole meaning of the character 
of Mr. Micawber is that a man can be always almost rich by 
constantly expecting riches. The lesson is really an important 
one in our sweeping modern sociology. We talk of the man whose 
life is a failure, because it is always a crisis." 2 In Mr. 
Dorrit, Dickens, staring at Wilkins Micawber... could only see 
the weakness and the tragedy that was made possible by his in- 

Chesterton, G.K. , "Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works 
of Charles Dickens" (1911), pp. 181, 184,185. 

1 Chesterton, G.K., "Charles Dickens" (1906), pp. 269-270. 


difference, his indulgence, or his bravado," 1 And the critic 
concludes, "the fact remains that the study of the slow de- 
moralization of a man through mere misfortune was not a study 
congenial to Dickens, not in accordance with his original in- 
spiration, not connected in any manner with the thing he had to 
say. In a word, the thing is not quite a part of himself: and 
he was not quite himself when he did it. " 2 While Mr. Dorr it 
is unknown to or forgotten by many, the memory of Mr. Micawber 
is green wherever there is a reader of Dickens, and he is known 
besides to many who have never looked between the covers of 

"David Copperfield", - such is the vitality of his personality. 


Thus, as we have observed in another chapter , it is 

where satire is combined with humor that it exerts its greatest 

influence. The satire contains the ethical teaching, but the 

humor makes it teachable. Humor imbues the satire with realism 

and vitality. Th© satirized characters through its use become 

so intensely interesting that one wishes to see more and more 

of them, and yet vices are never made attractive, nor is the 

satire thus rendered futile. Th© result is that the picture 

imprints itself do vividly upon our minds that the meaning is 

unescapable. The character of Mrs. Gamp has been commented upon 


at some length elsewhere, and Major Bagstock is another bril- 
liant illustration of this type. In incredulous wonder and de- 
light we watch the Major strutting about and trying to bully 
everyone into admiring 'rough and tough old Joey B. 1 , but no 

4. Ibid., -Part 2. 

3 » See Chapter IV, part 21 • 

1. Chesterton, G.K. , "Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of 
Charles Dickens" (1911), p. 182. 

2. Ibid., p. 185. 


reader was ever induced really to like him , or to be deceived 
as to his true character. The satire is too unmistakable to 
lead the humor astray, Mrs. Skewton would be too absolutely 
sordid and repulsive to look upon if her vanity, her selfish- 
ness, her entire 'littleness 1 were not seen with an eye for 
the pitiful absurdity of it all, - pitiful absurdity, so that 
we not only laugh but reflect. The persecution of little Ol- 
iver by Noah Claypole and Charlotte would seem unspeakably 
cruel, and needlessly so, if it were not presented with a 
glimpse of humor to lessen the strain. In the encounter between 
Noah and Oliver our most active sympathies are of course with 
Oliver, and we feel with him a rage against the big bully, but 
it is the humor with which the situation is handled by Dickens, - 
showing the ridiculous lack of any real worth in Charlotte, 
Noah, and Mrs, Sowerberry, that makes us all the more eager to 
respond to the cause of the poor orphan. * How the ugliness 
and horror of the life of Fagin, the Artful Dodger and the other 
thieves in their squalid den would oppress us, were it not 

that Dickens presents it to us at first with a semi-humorous 


whimsicality through the eyes of innocent little Oliver. And 
yet when one stops to think, the fact that these criminals take 
their life so lightly is a discouraging sign of their inurement 
to it. When Mr. Pickwick spends his first night in the Fleet, 
we are just about to succumb with him to the misery and squalor 

2. Ibid., Chap. IX,X, 

1. "Oliver Twist," Chap. VI. 


of the prison, when the Zephyr, Mr, Smangle, and Mr. Mivins come 
upon the scene. They are not the type of characters that arouse 
gay laughter, and yet they exemplify a sort of grim humor. For 
a time they seem to take one's mind off the unpleasant prison 
surroundings, but when the scene is past one realizes that in 
spite of the momentary enjoyment one receives from their aban- 
doned and roguish cleverness, the effect in the end is a deepened 
sense of the sordidness of some lives and the pity of such utter 
waste of manhood. 

The essence of much of Dickens' satire is ridicule, which 
is perhaps the most potent satirical weapon, A person may hear 
himself reproached as selfish, arrogant, cruel, et cetera, and 
remain unmoved, but let him feel that he is being spoken of as 
foolish or ridiculous, and in the majority of cases, he will ex- 
perience a profound reaction. No one wishes to admit even to 
himself that he is foolish enough to inspire ridicule, and if 
the accusation has been made that he is, he will look to his 
actions and attempt to refute the odious charge, Mr, Walters 
speaks of this quality of Dickens' satire: "Sheer genius led 
him to resolve on making the foolish laugh at their own follies. 
He had the prescience to realize that what is ridiculed out 
of existence does not survive, whereas force may only lead to 
concealment, not to extinction," ^ When Dickens has pointed 
out an evil which has its ludicrous aspects, he displays a joy- 
ous abandon in showing "what fools these mortals be". The very 

x * Walters, J.C., "Phases of Dickens" (1911), I troduction, p.xxi 


absurdity of his satirical picture cuts sharper than a serpent's 

tooth. G.K. Chesterton praises Dickens 1 satire in these words: 

"Dickens was among other things a satirist, a pure 

satirist Th© essence of satire is that it perceives 

some absurdity inherent in the logic of some position , and 
that It draws that absurdity out and isolates it, so that all 
can see it. Thus for instance when Dickens says, 'Lord Coodle 
would go out; Sir Thomas Doodle wouldn't come in; and there 
being no people to speak of in England except Coodle and Doo- 
dle, the country has been without a Government' ; when Dickens 
says this he suddenly pounces on and plucks out the one in- 
herent absurdity in the English party system which is hidden 
behind all its paraphenalia of Parliaments and Statutes, el- 
ections and ballot papers. When all the dignity and all the 
patriotism and all the public interest of the English con- 
stitutional party conflict have been fully allowed for, there 
does remain the bold, bleak question which Dickens in sub- 
stance asks, 'Suppose I want someone else who is neither 
Coodle or Doodle, This is the great quality called satire; 
it is a kind of taunting reasonableness; and it is inseparable 
from a kind of insane logic which is often called exaggera- 
tion." 1 

Dickens made the evil he ridiculed so obvious that no one could 
mistake it, even in himself. He made it so impossibly absurd 
that it was marked forever, and no self-respecting person would 
wish to be branded with the same stigma • After a contemplation 
of the divine Insolence of Mr. Sapsea's pride, or the almost 
equal audacity of Old Deportment Turveydrop's smugly selfish be- 
nevolence, who would have the courage consciously to betray such 
entire self-complacence or such selfishness? When one has seen 
the bland hypocrisy, the consciously moral, condescending virtue 
of Mr. Pecksniff; the small vanity and outwardly conventional 
gentility of the Kenwigses; the nagging inquisitiveness and vig- 
ilant jealousy of Mrs. Snagsby; - when one has seen these atro- 

* Chesterton, G.K., "Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works 
of Charles Dickens" (1911), p. 92. 


phies of the human spirit, one sighs, takes a long introspect- 
ive inventory of one f s own heart, and says devoutly, "From such 

as these, good Lord deliver us. 1 " 


It is sometimes object /that Dickens derives so much en- 
joyment from his ridicule, that he indulges in it to the ex- 
clusion of everything else, and does not present the sane other 
side of the same picture. At first sight, this may appear to 
be true, for of course it is undeniable that he revels in his 
ludicrous delineations of characters and situations. Whatever 
may have been his spontaneous enjoyment, however, we know that 
he had also a purpose in thus bringing evils into the spot-light. 
He was aware that his countrymen were liable to become too com- 
placent, and in their self-satisfaction not realize the fool- 
ishness of their actions. On the other hand, they would prob- 
ably not err in the direction of thinking themselves too imper- 
fect. Therefore Dickens held up for laughter their besetting 
sins to which they were blindj and gave somewhat less space to 
their dominant virtues of which they were already sufficiently 
conscious. This was what he did in his much- condemned social 
satire.^" Practically all the criticism of Dickens' satire has 
centered about the question as to the realism and justice of 
his satire of the higher classes. If we believe that his soc- 
ial satire bespeaks a grudge against the upper classes, we might 
also believe that he had a grudge against his own class, some 

1 See Chapter I, pp. 4,5. 


of whom he satirized even more relentlessly. The Veneerings, in 
their brand-new gentility, the Bumbles, Old Turveydrop, Sampson 
and Sally Brass, the philanthropic Pardiggles and the Jellybys 
are presented in as unflattering a light as any of Dickens 1 char- 
acters. None of these people would probably have admitted the 
truth of the picture drawn of them - all would have called it a 
flagrantly unkind exaggeration. And yet we, who view them ob- 
jectively, believe the satire to be true. Just so it was with 
Dickens 1 satire of the nobility and! high society. The satire, of 
which they were the objects, appeared to them a maliciously false 
picture drawn by one outside the charmed circle, who knew nothing 
of their life. The fact is, that Dickens is no more malicious 
in his portraits of them than he is in many others. He was too 
fair to rail for the mere love of railing. His very distance 
from the higher class he satirized made him see the peculiarities 
and faults of which they were ignorant, or which they v/ere too 
proud to admit. The distance at which Dickens stood handicapped 
him in giving an accurate picture of the intricate social mach- 
inery of high society, but he was near enough to see clearly some 
of the prominent characteristics of members of that society. 
Dickens could probably not have given us a picture of the ideal 
gentleman of the nobility, but he did give us a true picture of 
some gentlemen of that class. The satire has ethical value, nev- 
ertheless, for it is realistic and just, as far as it goes. It 
is perhaps to be regretted that he did not paint the complete 
canvas, but even genius has its limitations, and we may rejoice 

- r ,7- 

that Dickens' were not of great enough importance to detract 

at all materially from his influence as a moral teacher. In his 

typically emphatic way Chesterton says: 

"The statement that Dickens could not describe a gen- 
tleman is, like most popular animadversions against Dickens, 
so very thin and one-sided a truth as to be for serious pur- 
poses a falsehood. When people say that Dickens could not 
describe a gentleman, what they mean is this, and so far what 
they mean is true. They mean that Dickens did not des- 
cribe a gentleman in the way that gentlemen describe gentle- 
men But when it comes to saying that he did not describe 

them well, that is another matter, and that I should emphati- 
cally deny. The things that really are odd about the upper 
English class he saw with startling promptitude and penetra- 
tion, and if the upper English class does not see these odd 
things in itself, it is not because they are not there, but 
because we are all blind to our own oddities..... I have often 
heard a dear old English oligarch say that Dickens could not 
describe a gentleman, while every note of his own voice and 
turn of his hand recalled Sir Leicester Deadlock." * 

It is not to be wondered at that Dickens, with a satire 

so keen and telling, should have been accused by its victims of 

ridiculing the whole of humanity for the errors of a few. It is 

fortunately true that Dickens was never so unfair as to do this. 

If he satirized some of the foibles of human beings, it does not 

follow that he found fault with all traits of human character. 

If he attacked wrongs done in the name of religion and philan- 

tropy, one does not need to draw the conclusion that he thought 

lightly of these things. Indeed, if we study Dickens we find 

that it was his love of the goodness, and truth, and beauty in 

sacred things that led him to attack their abuse so vehemently. 

In the preface to "Pickwick" (1837-39), he vindicates himself 

of any such false charge: 

Chesterton, G.K., "Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works 
of Charles Dickens" (1911), pp. 125.126. 


"Lest there be any well-intentioned persons who do not 
perceive the difference.... between religion and the cant of 
religion, piety and the pretence of piety, a humble rever- 
ence for the great truths of Scripture, and an audacious 
and offensive obtrusion of its letter and not its spirit in 
the commonest dissensions and meanest affairs of life, to 
the extraordinary confusion of ignorant minds, let them un- 
derstand that it is always the latter and never the ^ormer, 
which is satirized as being, according to all experience, 
inconsistent with the former, impossible of union with it, 
and one of the most evil and mischevious falsehoods existent 
in society - whether it establs""lh its head-quarters, for the 
time being, in Exeter Hall, or Ebenezer Chapel, or both." 

Frank T. Marzials, in his "Life of Dickens" gives a critic's 

opinion: "With all his boisterous merriment, his volleys of 

inextinguishable laughter, he never makes game of what is at 

all wcrthy of respect. Here ("Pickwick") as in his later books, 

right is right and wrong wrong, and he is never tempted to 

jingle his jester's bell out of season, or make right look rid- 
„ i 


As I have said, Dickens of tern makes the absurd side of 

things seem predominant, and he realized and meant it to be 

so, but he never fails to show us an example or examples 

of an opposite kind - not of ideal persons, but of natural hum- 
an beings who have enough nobility of character to be a hope- 
ful and inspiring contrast. If the oratorical and aggressive 
Mr. Honey thunder, the suave Chadband, and the red-nosed and 
sentimental Stiggins are unpleasant side-lights on the clergy, 
we are compensated by the portrait of the quiet, kindly sym- 
pathetic Canon Cri sparkle, with the fine blending in his char- 
acter of humor and seriousness, gentleness and strength. There 

"Martin Chuzzlewit," Preface, p. vi. 

Marzials, Frank T., "Life of Dickens" (1887), p. 46. 


are Dodson and Fogg, Sampson and Sally Brass, and Mr* Vholes, 
all superlative examples of rascality in the legal profession,- 
in which justice ought to reside - but there also comes upon 
the stage merry, active, helpful little Mr. Perker who, despite 
his being a member of the scandalously corrupt profession , is 
kind and just and unselfish enough to be of valuable service to 
simple Mr. Pickwick in times of trouble. Even in his sweeping 
satire of America - although we wish it were not quite so in- 
clusive - Dickens is fair enough to introduce Mr. Bevan, who is 
all that Elijah Pogram, Jefferson Brick and Mr. Chollop are not. 
Not to omit some examples of the 1 social satire' : Lord Verisopht 
and Sir John Chester are of course thoroughly despicable, but 
dignified Sir Leicester and Cousin Feenix of the unmanageable 
legs, are not at all so. We look upon them with tolerant humor 
as Dickens did, and we cannot help but sympathize with poor old 
Deadlock in his prostration at his wife ! s disgrace and death. 
For another study in contrasts we may turn to "Bleak House". 
Mrs. Pardiggle and Mrs. Jellyby, although diametrically opposed 
in their philanthropic methods, are neither of them endowed with 
the true spirit of social service. This does not mean that all 
women are so handicapped, for Esther Summer son, totally different 
from both Mrs. Pardiggle and Mrs. Jellyby, is a real angel of 
mercy. So Dickens gives us the light and the shadow, and we may 
choose: but his power of delineation has already made the choice 


One of the chief reasons that Dickens* satire has had^eth- 


ical influence it has, is that it is not cold or impersonal, 
but possesses the quality of human contact. The great satires 
on institutions, and national and social traits gain a large 
part of their appeal from the fact that they are not presented 
abstractly, but are shown in their relation to the people who 
live under them. In "Bleak House" (1852-53), the pathetic fig- 
ure of Jo of Tom-All-Alone's is a silent but powerful accusation 
of the neglect of Society to care for its 'little ones 1 . There 
is no violent and long-winded arraignment - the spectacle of 
Jo f s miserable life, and his death in his first moments of real 
happiness is enough. Dickens only says briefly but trenchant- 

"Dead, Your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. 
Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. 
Dead, men and women, born with heavenly compassion in your 
hearts. And dying thus around us every day." * 

Funerals are a sad matter at best, but a new and addition- 
ally pathetic light is cast upon them in Dickens 1 description 
of the funeral of Mrs. Gargery. Mr. Trabb, the undertaker who 
takes the pleasure of an artist in his profession, is the chief 
stage manager of the final rites, and he omits no detail of the 
stage properties to make the performance professionally per- 
fect. Poor Joe, the only person present who ever really cared 
for the deceased, is in agony under all these artificial 
conventions. He whispers sadly to Pip, "Which I meantersay, 
sir, as I would in preference have carried her to the church 
myself, along with three or four friendly ones wot come to it 

1 m 

"Bleak House," Vol II, Chap. XVI . P» £33). 


with willing harts and arras, but it were considered wot the 
neighbors would look down on such and would be of opinions as 
it were wanting in respect." ^ The uselessness and hypocrisy 
of these 'suits and trappings of woe 1 is keenly satirized in the 
fact that all the apparent 'chief mourners 1 , who are revelling 
in the theatricality of grief, are indeed the very ones who 
think nothing of the dead woman. Simple Joe Gargery, the one 
really tender-hearted and grief-stricken figure, is suffering 
twice as much as he normally would, because of the inconsiderate 
of f iciousness of the undertaker. No diatribe against sham form- 
ality in funerals could have been half so powerful as this touch- 

the 2 
ing picture of the effect of /custom upon Joe Gargery. 

The Yorkshire schools are horrible even when one knows 
only the lifeless facts, but let one see the suffering they 
caused in the lives of real children, and one becomes actively 
indignant. Dickens describes the workings of Chancery, and we 
realize the terrible power of this slowly-moving, all-devouring 
monster. But we do not appreciate fully the tragedy it leaves 
in its wake until we see what it has done to poor, crazed Miss 
Flite, who still madly hopes on, in spite of the wreckage it 
has made of her mind and fortune j how it fastens its tenacles 
upon young Richard Carstone, and develops in him such a fatal 
fascination that he wastes his youth in hopelessly hoping for 
something which never materializes; how it casts its shadows 

* Ibid., Chapter XXXV. 
1 "Great Ixpectations", Chap. XXXV, p. 293. 


over Ada, and then indirectly upon Esther* Even John Jaundyce 
says "the wind is in the west" whenever Chancery is mentioned, 
and he escapes greater vexation only because he is strong enough 
to withstand the almost irresistible force. These victims of 
the monster are not unusually weak, helpless creatures, but are 
ordinary human beings caught in the toils of something more 
powerful than themselves; and as such we contemplate their tragedy 
with stronger emotion and a more thorough conviction of the 
wrong that caused it. It is no wonder that when thousands of 
readers all over England read these sad histories which so power- 
fully awakened their indignation and their sympathies, they 
should have voiced their protest and have demanded that such 
institutions as Chancery and many others, should perish from 
the earth. 

Much of Dicliens 1 satire not only strikes at a particular 
evil, but in its very attack it suggests a kind of indirect satire 
upon something else. The world is not made up of isolated virtues 
and vices, but is an intricate complex of both, with the particular 
elements acting and reacting upon each other, Dickens shows 
this in his satire, making clear that society is bound together 
in one sympathetic whole. In the "Christmas Carol" (1843), the 
selfishness of Scrooge is directly satirized, but some of the 
most telling reproach is given by way of indirect satire, when 
one sees the humble Crat chits at their happy Christmas dinner - 
happy in spite of Scrooge, The implication is: how much more 


happiness they could have, if the old raiser were what he ought 
to be. Uncle Pumblechook is unsparingly satirized ( but withal, 
with great gusto) in all his self-importance and self-inter- 
estedness, but it is just these rather odious qualities in him 
which bring home to Pip the unselfishness and humility of Joe, 
and so ironically reflect upon his (Pip's) own vanity and snob- 
bish ambition. The direct, unswerving satire of Dickens leaves 
no doubt in our minds that Pecksniff is the master-peice of 
whited sepulchres, but it is the patient, kind unassuming figure 
of Tom Pinch - who truly has in his heart all the spirituality 
to which Pecksniff makes such outrageous pretensions,- it is 
the sight of Tom Pinch in his simplicity beside the artificial 
grandeur of his master, which makes us hate Pecksniff with a 
cordial hatred, Dickens tells us directly enough about Old De- 
portment Turveydrop so that he stands before us in all his el- 
egant emptiness, but what makes us really know him for the im- 
postor he is, is the gentle, pure unselfishness of Caddy who in 
her humility and thankfulness believes him to be all he himself 
thinks he is. We are not deceived by Caddy's opinion: she is 
unwittingly the instrument of his total humiliation in our eyes. 
It is characteristic of Dickens' kindness and fairness of method 


that he thus allows us to look at the objects of his satire 
from various angles, Mrs, Gargery, in the eyes of Pip is a shrew, 
pure and simple, with all the unpleasant attributes of her kind. 
Seen through the eyes of Joe, she appears in a softened light: 
"Such a fine figure of a woman as she once were, Pip", says tender- 
hearted, forgiving Joe after her injury, 1 Sir Leicester Deadlock 
is not only the stiff, proud old aristocrat, but the kind and 
noble master whose service Mrs, Rouncewell would not leave if she 
could. And what a varied outlook do we have upon Mr, Dombey, 
from the differing viewpoints of gentle and neglected Florence, 
admiring Miss Tox, the bullying old Major, and the inquisitively 
interested servants of the household. Satire of this kind seems 
to fall upon its object inevitably, like a judgment in life, 
for it takes into its scope so much of life itself. 

Can anyone who has read carefully and appreciatively Dick- 
ens' satire, say that he is "a humorist, and nothing else" ? « 
Although it is true that the best satire is combined with humor, 
the satirical purpose is so obvious, and the results of it have 
been so powerful, that the claim of humor alone does not sat- 
isfy the ends accomplished. If Dickens had been only a humorist, 
people would not have risen in such indignant defense against 
his social satire; they would not have been so fearful of mere 
good-humored laughter. The novelist was a professed satirist, 

2# See Chapter I, p. 2. 

x * "Great Expectations, " Chap. XVI, p. 128. 


with a purpose in his satire as dear as that in his humor. His 
aim was the betterment of humanity. His satire is essentially 
human j it is powerful in his portrayal of the evil, the pathos, 
and the absurdity of the life of human beings; and hence arouses 
in us a prfound realization of its truth and its relation to our 
daily existence. 


Chapter VII 


That Dickens was a teacher and reformer in his own way, 
few critics have dared to deny - the undebatable fact of his 
influence too clearly confronts them. That his virile satire 
was the chief instrument of his reforming power has likewise 
been generally conceded - it is the natural weapon for attack. 
Divergence of opinion has arisen concerning the realistic value 
and justice of Dickens' satire. His humor has always been en- 
joyed, too often for its own sake, although some critics have 
indeed appreciated the place it occupies in aiding Dickens 1 
purpose of reform. The types of humorous and satiric appeal 
have been recognized, his purpose has been noted, but there has 
previously been no definite effort made to correlate his meth- 
ods with their particular ethical value. By studying rather 
closely Dickens' manner of using his humor and satire, with a 
constant realization of his purpose, we have attempted to show 
the distinct ethical value of these two greatest instruments 
of his art. 

In bringing to a close the discussion of the ethical value 
of Dickens' humor and satire, we recall the three cjtiestions 
which were raised at the end of the first chapter; Was Dickens' 
purpose ethical; Was the philosophy of life which dominated 
that purpose ethical; and, Was Dickens a true ethical teacher ? 
At the same time it is necessary to summon up a remembrance of 


the three-fold definition of the term 'ethical' as we have ap- 
plied it to Dickens: primarily in relation to conduct; ultimate- 
ly in its final and absolute sense; and further more its inter- 
pretation in the light of the personal moral consciousness. 

That Dickens' purpose was ethical in the highest sense of 
the word, there remains not the slightest doubt in the mind of 
one who has studied the clear sincerity and earnestness with 
which he states his aims in the prefaces to his novels. The 
philosophy which was revealed in the working out of his purpose, 
was one in which the realization of the evil in the world was 
balanced by a strong faith in the ultimate perfectibility of 
mankind. To accomplish his ends he satirized the evil, but showed 
that the light of hope lay in the growing brotherhood of men. 
Dominated by the best Christian ethics, he set out upon his task 
as an ethical teacher. Thus, in the absolute sense, judged by 
conformity to an ideal standard, Dickens had true ethical value, 
7/hen we turn to the result of Dickens' teachings to see how 
they affected the conduct of society, we acknowledge a profound 
influence. Great evils, exposed by his satire to the glare of 
public indignation, were soon scorched in the heat of the re- 
former's wrath. Others, more insidious and less easily attacked, 
if not banished were at least made apparent so that everyone 
could beware of them. Upon personal conduct also, through the 
keen satirization of the peculiarities and errors of human beings, 
he exercised a vital influence for the good, which only becomes 
evident in the aggregate, but whose effect everyone who reads 
him may feel. 


A final judgment of the ethical value of Dickens as a 
teacher, especially in his humor and satire, must be rendered 
according to the moral viewpoint of each different reader. In 
my opinion, Dickens was not only a deeply ethical teacher for his 
own time, but also for time to come. The specialized attacks 
upon evils which have since passed away (largely through Dickens' 
influence) have, of course, no longer any direct application, 
but we still realize their truth and feel the emotions if their 
portrayal arouses, and we know that the same evil can never re- 
turn without the world recognizing it and branding it with 
shame before it has time to rise and grow again, Dickens 1 perm- 
anency depends in good part upon the fact that he pointed out 
wrongs, but did not offer a plan for reform; for the methods of 
reform change radically with time, but fundamental conceptions 
of morality remain more static. The great moral significance of 
Dickens' humor and satire is that its method of appeal was to 
universally human traits; that it suggested the relationships 
of each to all; bound humanity together by the power of its auth- 
or's own kindly tolerance, and awakened the same broad understand- 
ing in us. A lesson such as this can never grow old nor useless. 

Anyone who believes that it is of moral value to be able 
to see the faults and foibles of people in particular and in 
society in general, to know them 'for better or for worse', to 
see their reflection in himself; - and yet who believes joy and 
hope and love to be the ultimate goal toward which humanity should 
move - he will appreciate the ethical value of Dickens' humor 


and satire. To do this is not necessarily to take the author's 
teaching as a whole life-creed. Life is many-sided, and ethical 
value is derived from many sources. Our ethical ideal will be 
a compound of many things, and one of them will surely be the 
dynamic, permamently inspiring force of Dickens 1 teaching. 



Novels of Charles Dickens, Edition Harper's (1902) 


Criticism and Biography 
Moulton's Library of Literary Criticism, Vol. VI, 
"Charles Dickens." 

Eliot, George, "The Natural History of German Life," 
Westminster Review (1856). Reprinted in Essays by George 
Eliot, Dana Estes and Co. (1883), pp. 161, 162. 

Ruskin, John, "Roots of Honour", Unto This Last (1860) 
Edition George Allen (1906). Note, p. 14. 

Lowell, James Russell, "Chaucer," My Study Windows" 
(1871), Houghton Mifflin Co. (1899). 

Porster, John, "Life of Charles Dickens" (1871-74). 
Edition Chapman and Hall (n.d. ). 

Marzials, Frank T. , "Life of Charles Dickens" (1887). 

Ward, Adolphus W., "Charles Dickens," English Men of 
Letters, V 1. 9 (1901). 

Swinburne, Algernon Charles, "Charles Dickens" (1902). 

Hughes, James L. , "Dickens as an Educator" (1903), 

Saunders, Margaret Baillie, "The Philosophy of Dick- 
ens" (1905). 

Chesterton, G.E., "Charles Dickens" (1906). 

More, Paul Elmer, "The Praise of Dickens," Shel- 
burne Essays, Fifth Series (1908). 

Chesterton, G.K., "Appreciations and Criticisms 
of the Works of Charles Dickens" (1911). 

Walters, J. Cuming, "Phases of Dickens" (1911). 

Gissing, George, "Charles Dickens," (1912). 

Helm, W.H., Introduction to "Charles Dickens" (1912). 

Crotch, W. Walter, "Charles Dickens, Social Reform- 
er (1913). 

Crotch, W. Walter, "The Soul of Dickens" (1916).